by Kathryn Davis, Stewardship Coordinator
Each week, rain or shine, Soundkeeper staff and volunteers head out for a patrol. Our usual destination is the Duwamish River. As our boat traverses Elliott Bay, we pass a stunning view of downtown Seattle. Towering skyscrapers dwarf Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Look closely and you see the brick buildings marking Pioneer Square, the city’s birthplace originally called Duwamps.
We enter the mouth of the Duwamish River along the west side of Harbor Island. This man-made island was completed in 1909 and was the glistening engineering feat of its time. It was built from soil dredged from the river and collected from flattening downtown streets. Fisher Flouring Mills, the first building constructed on the island, still stands on decrepit looking pilings. The water here is deep, nearly 40 feet, leaving no indication that this was once an extensive tidal mud flat and important estuarine habitat. Nevertheless, we frequently see harbor seals, sea lions, salmon, blue heron and other wildlife. This is the story of the Duwamish- a river so whipped, straightened and built up that is now commonly referred to as a “waterway,” but still home to wildlife, human communities, parks for recreation and a food source for many people. The industry lining its banks is an important part of the economic engine that keeps our area competitive. This is a river that nourishes Seattle in more ways than one, and it needs your help.
Our goal over the last year has been to invite those who live, work, study and play most frequently in and around the Duwamish (with support from the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG’s Healthy Communities Project and EPA CARE program Health Communities Grant). We have had the chance to speak with local businesses, residents and government employees and learned much from all of them.What are we doing on these patrols? We are looking for pollution. We are sharing the past, present and future of this place. We are giving you the tools to identify and report concerning sources of toxic pollution so that we all may better protect this river, Seattle’s ONLY river.
These volunteers have responded to pipes discharging abnormal liquids, reported emergent oil spills, removed floating debris, monitored dredging activity and reported a number of other pollution concerns. For example, in August, Soundkeeper was on the water when an entire tug boat sank in a matter of minutes. With a prompt response, a safety team was able to quickly boom the area around the boat and later extract it from the river.
Patrolling is part of what it means to be a Waterkeeper. We will continue to patrol our waterways and want you to join us. Please call (206-297-7002) or email us to sign up and find out when we will be on the water next.