New Report: Puget Sound Still In 'Critical Condition' But Don't Unplug Life Support Yet

Nov 1, 2013

SEATTLE -- The state agency that's leading the cleanup of Puget Sound has released its latest annual report on the health of Puget Sound.

Last year Puget Sound Partnership referred to the Sound as a patient in “critical condition.” This year things don’t look much better.

“You could say we’re still in critical condition,” says Alana Knaster, deputy director of the Puget Sound Partnership, “but the doctors aren’t coming to us and saying you ought to disconnect the life support because you’re not gonna live.”

The Partnership tracks 21 vital signs that serve as indicators for overall health of the Sound. These include things like toxic levels in fish, orca and herring population numbers, beach closures, recreational fishing harvest and more.

The Partnership has set goals within each of those vital signs (i.e., total number of orcas desired, specific levels of toxics in fish, acres of shellfish beds to be reopened, etc.) to be achieved by 2020.

Of those 21 parameters, only 3 have improved to the point where they’re on track for the 2020 targets. “Puget Sound remains in crisis,” the report’s authors write. “It is increasingly likely that we will not reach our legislatively established targets by 2020.”

Progress was made in the area of habitat improvements:

2,888 acres of shellfish beds were reopened to harvest between 2007 and 2013.

2,260 acres of estuary were completed between 2006 and 2012 in Puget Sound’s 16 major river delta estuaries.

The percent of swimming beaches meeting water quality standards in 2012 was higher than the 2004 baseline reference.

And now for the bad news.

The resident endangered orca population continues to decline. In 2010 there were 86. At last tally there are 80 resident orcas left, with fewer sightings in Puget Sound this summer than previous years.

Chinook salmon, the critical food for resident orcas, are not recovering.

Herring continue to decline. Each of the three target stock groupings remain below their individual 25-year mean baseline references and their 2020 target values. Cherry Point herring remain severely depressed.

Marine Water Quality has worsened.

The report goes on to say that despite localized restoration efforts, Puget Sound is losing more habitat to development than it gains through restoration.

But despite the report's disappointing findings, Alana Knaster remains optimistic. She points to the work that’s been done in habitat restoration, specifically. “It’s not a problem where you turn on a switch, turn off a switch and you solve it. You can do a restoration project and it can be lovely but you’re reversing 50-100 years of degradation and it doesn’t come back the next week.”

The agency raised $170 million for near-term actions over the next two years.

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