By RICHARD WALKER
Journal of the San Juans Editor
A draft action plan to improve the health of Puget Sound identifies about 15 actions to be taken in the San Juan Islands, including acquiring priority habitat for salmon, maintaining local oil-spill response programs, reducing sources of water pollution, managing urban stormwater runoff, implementing low-impact development standards for new construction, and limiting alterations on sensitive shorelines.
View the draft Action Agenda at www.psp.wa.gov. The San Juan Islands priority actions can be found on page 78.
Public comment is due by Nov. 20, 5 p.m.The final Action Agenda will be turned over to the state Legislature and the governor on Dec. 1.
Public meetings are scheduled in the San Juans next week:
— Nov. 10, 5-7 p.m., Lopez Island Library.
— Nov. 12, 5-7 p.m., Orcas Fire Hall.
— Nov. 13, 5-7 p.m., Mullis Community Senior Center, Friday Harbor.
To submit comments in writing, write Puget Sound Partnership, P.O. Box 40900, Olympia, WA. 98504-0900. Call (800) 54-SOUND or (360) 725-5444. E-mail: email@example.com.
The San Juan Island agenda is part of a plan being prepared by the governor-initiated Puget Sound Partnership to restore and protect Puget Sound’s health by the year 2020. The local component was developed by the San Juan Initiative, in cooperation with public agencies, tribal governments, scientists and interested residents.
The draft Action Agenda identifies some alarming facts and trends related to the health of Puget Sound:
— Each year, 52 million pounds of toxic chemicals, nearly 150,000 pounds per day, inundate Puget Sound with contaminated runoff. This amounts to a toxic spill the size of Exxon Valdez every two years, according to the report.
— The toxic chemicals include oil and petroleum products, lead and phthalates, and 1 million pounds of toxic metals such as zinc and copper. These metals, despite being released in lower concentrations than oil and petroleum, can cause harm to threatened salmon species, according to the report.
“These disturbing numbers are putting more than 40 species in Puget Sound at risk, including the Sound’s orca population, where we just saw a decline of nearly 10 percent in the past several months,” Partnership Executive Director David Dicks said in a press release.
Two pollution reports, “Pollutant Loadings for Surface Runoff and Roadways” and “Improved Estimates of Loadings from Dischargers of Municipal and Industrial Wastewater,” confirm the state’s previous findings that surface runoff is the main pathway of the toxic chemicals getting into the Sound.
The primary sources of toxins to Puget Sound are the day-to-day activities of people, as the population grows and land gets more and more developed, according to the report. The estimates are based on current knowledge about toxic pollutants from surface runoff, air deposition, wastewater from discharge pipes, direct spills into the water and combined sewer/stormwater overflows.
According to the draft Action Agenda, San Juan Islands’ pinto abalone population is at risk of extinction. The San Juans provide “unique habitat” for 22 populations of migrating chinook salmon, which support an endangered orca population and marine birds. The islands have 70 percent of the rocky reef habitat in Puget Sound and provide marine nearshore habitat and spawning areas for forage fish.
The draft Action Agenda identifies the following threats to the San Juans’ ecosystem:
— Marine habitat degradation from derelict fishing gear.
— Loss of eelgrass habitat; 11 of 27 historical pocket estuaries are at risk of degradation.
— Potential for localized oil spills; potential for significant pollution from a major oil spill in the Strait.
— Inadequate waste management to handle influx of summer visitors, boater pollution in bays and marinas, potential problems from poorly treated wastewater from Victoria, B.C. outfall that reaches the islands.
— Polluted stormwater runoff from the islands’ urban areas and ferry landings.
— Groundwater is vulnerable to pollution from septic systems and increased future water demand.
— Saltwater intrusion into underground drinking water supplies.
— Invasive species, such as tunicates, Japanese seaweed, and purple varnish clams.
— Population doubles in the summer months; the year-round population is expected to grow by 5,000 more people by 2030.
The draft Action Agenda identifies the following solutions:
— Acquire priority habitats identified in the Salmon Recovery Plan.
— Implement San Juan Marine Stewardship Area Plan.
— Implement the San Juan Marine Stewardship Area Monitoring Plan.
— Implement San Juan Initiative recommendations.
— Update and implement regulatory programs to protect rock fish habitat.
— Complete Critical Area Ordinance updates and Shoreline Master Program update; limit alterations on shorelines sensitive to modifications.
— Protect existing surface and ground water.
— Implement Salmon Recovery three-year workplan.
— Quantify impacts and strategically remove derelict fishing gear.
— Maintain local oil spill response programs.
— Update and implement Stormwater Management Plans and Codes to manage urban stormwater runoff; implement Low-Impact Development standards for new development.
— Integrate the objectives of San Juan Marine Stewardship Plan, the Shoreline Master Program and Critical Areas Ordinances so they are consistent.
— Implement stewardship and outreach programs and provide technical assistance focused on protection and prevention.
— Implement local aspects of Orca Recovery Plan.
— Investigate causes of marine bird declines.
Funding the Action Agenda will require finding ways to spend existing dollars more effectively as well as raising new sources of funding, the report states. Funding will need to be a shared responsibility between state, federal and local governments.
Recognizing the tough economic times and the need to learn from our restoration efforts, the draft Action Agenda recommends starting with expenditures at a modest scale, testing solutions carefully before ramping them up.
The Puget Sound Partnership is proposing an incremental enhancement of $200 million to $300 million for the 2009-11 biennium, the majority coming from the capital budget.
“The Action Agenda is the best chance we have to repair the damage to Puget Sound and ensure we leave a legacy of a clean and healthy Puget Sound for our children and grandchildren,” Dicks said. “Success truly depends on all of us coming together and being a part of the solution.”
Online sources: www.psp.wa.gov, www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/pstoxics/index.html, www.sanjuaninitiative.org