Advocates for a healthier Puget Sound have long contented that it needs to be treated as a nationally significant water body, just like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.
Such recognition, they say, will attract more money and attention for improving the Sound’s environmental health.
And the first big step toward that goal was taken Tuesday. Officials from the Obama Administration joined Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee, tribal leaders and members of the state’s congressional delegation in Seattle for the announcement that they would be coordinating efforts to improve the health of the Northwest’s inland sea. That includes putting a combined $800 million into various environmental projects.
The funds are a combination of federal, state and tribal dollars. Recovery efforts will be organized under a Memorandum of Understanding between various agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, tribal leadership and state government.
The EPA will kick in $124 million through its National Estuary Program, with matching funds coming from the state.
Complimentary federal legislation which passed last month will allocate $451 million for large scale coastal and estuary habitat restoration via the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project.
“The Puget Sound is the largest estuary by water volume in the United States,” said Representative Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who co-authored the recent legislation. “As one of the largest habitat restoration efforts in the history of the United States, this project will help facilitate restoration of river deltas, beaches, open coastal inlets, and barrier embayments within the region.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has committed to spending $100 million on fish passage at the Mud Mountain dam on the White River east of Tacoma. Thousands of salmon die there every other year due to the Corps’ inability to transport enough fish above the dams to spawn.
A second project with a $20 million dollar price tag will open up 40 miles of salmon habitat along the Skokomish River in western Washington.
The announcement comes after months of behind-the-scenes haggling between federal and local leaders and represents a parting gift from the Obama Administration.
“If we hope to do better than hold the line, which we aren’t arguably yet doing, we need to ramp this up, get out of our silos, and get serious by applying resources of the scale and at a rate that matches the huge challenges we face,” said Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Leadership Council and a participant in Tuesday’s announcement.