Thoughts on the new Puget Sound Task Force – Salish Sea Communications

This was originally posted on Mike Sato’s “Salish Sea Communications“. It is a reply to Mike’s commentary on the newly formed Puget Sound Federal Task Force. It clarifies many things that probably could have been stated in a Press Release. With so many stakeholders out there, it seemed very confusing to many of us, and when people working for the Partnership did not know a thing about it in advance, I would have to stick with my perception  that it came out of the blue. However,  we appreciate Jacques White’s commentary.

The recent announcement from the White House did not come out of the blue. Congressman Denny Heck introduced the Puget SOS Act in September of 2015 and has been working advance the legislation since.

By this summer, it appeared that the Act, like many other pieces of federal legislation wasn’t going to get through Congress to the President by the end of his term. Congressman Heck along with Congressman Kilmer began working with federal agencies and the Puget Sound Partnership to look for other ways to move action on recovery of the Sound, and to foster greater federal investment and attention to the region. The funding announced is welcome, but the formation of a federal Taskforce in DC is perhaps more important, as it puts Puget Sound at an administrative level of attention closer to Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Florida Everglades. 

Of the $600M in new money, $450M is to support projects that came out of the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project , a joint effort of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife that started a major effort to evaluate nearshore problems and project ideas in 2001. The final Engineer’s Report released this year identifies over $1 billion in nearshore related projects, and the three projects targeted for the first phase estimated to cost $450M. The $20M for the Skokomish River and the $23M for the Mud Mountain Dam are similarly well vetted USACOE projects that address specific habitat or barrier problems and were ripe for inclusion in a funding package.

The $124M in federal funding is for the implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda and represents a 5 year commitment for EPA to match an equal investment from the state of Washington. It should be noted that all of the investments will require Congressional or state legislative appropriations, but the commitments from the executive branch, EPA and the Department of Defense to move forward on these positive steps to recover Puget Sound are significant.

This is all important work, but does not encompass even all the nearshore habitat needs, let alone the water quality issues we face which by some estimates amount to a staggering $500 billion dollar price tag if we were to capture and treat all stormwater in the Puget Sound Basin.

But as I mentioned previously, perhaps the most significant portion of the recent announcement is the formation of the federal Taskforce. From the announcement:

“The Task Force announced today is designed to effectively approach the multi-faceted threats these ecosystems face through development of a “Puget Sound Action Plan” to better coordinate federal programs and focus restoration efforts. The Task Force will develop this action plan in collaboration with the State of Washington and in consultation with tribal governments, as well as through input from a diverse group of stakeholders.

In particular, the Task Force will build on identified priorities in three categories: stormwater management, shellfish sustainability, and habitat protection and expansion.”

It should be noted that the “Puget Sound Action Plan” is for the federal agencies, and we can hope that it parallels the Puget Sound Action Agenda developed by Puget Sound Partnership, and that it focuses greater federal investment of our national time and treasure to recover Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.

The announced investments are relevant, valuable and timely. I would not get too worked up about whether you were deeply involved in the timing or content of the recent announcement, which was driven by strategies relevant inside the Washington, DC beltway. I would put your energy into supporting the planned expenditures in Congress and in the state legislature, and I would focus on getting your voices heard as the federal Taskforce works with regional interests to develop their action plan.

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