by Laura James

Hoh_Rainforest_-_Olympic_National_Park_-_Washington_State_(9780356544)200 years ago, large areas of dense evergreen forests stretched from the snowy peaks to the shores of Puget Sound, where waves and currents lapped at the base of madrona and sword ferns. The forest floor captured rainwater like a sponge, filtering and slowing the rain on its journey through the watershed, down creeks and streams, into rivers that served as home and conduit for numerous salmon and other fish, and finally into the bountiful marine waters of Puget Sound.

As the landscape changed, our society put in more and more hard surfaces that increased runoff and carried pollutants. More than 20 years ago polluted stormwater runoff (and the land development that leads to it) was identified as the single most impacting element to the health of Puget Sound

800px-Storm_DrainToday, on my way to work, driving over miles of impervious concrete, I felt a bit helpless watching the firehose effect of the rain washing cigarette butts, trash, oil, and anything that can fit though the storm drain grates and into Puget Sound.  Knowing what it looks like at the underwater end makes it all the more poignant, from the boiling plume to the debris trail of trash including heavy plastics and decaying material. A large part of the issue with polluted runoff is that unlike the slow path through the forest, this water runs quickly, over the roads and sidewalks, collecting toxins and whatever trash might have collected, and like a firehose, washes that debris into the storm drains.


Puget Sound is sick. According to the Department of Ecology, 14 million pounds of pollutants pour into our local waterways each year and polluted runoff is the number-one source of toxins entering Puget Sound. It comes from poor understanding and planning, and it comes from each one of us — our streets, driveways and yards — and much of it goes directly into Puget Sound untreated. The result is that Chinook salmon are threatened, our native coho salmon runs are at 8% of historic levels and considered a species of concern, our Southern Resident Orca Whales are endangered, the local shellfish industry is down and many public beaches are closed to harvest.

The good news: although the problem is large, I do not believe it is unsurmountable. If we all work together, government agencies, non-profits and citizens, WE CAN make a difference.

What can you do?  Here is a list describing 7 simple solutions we can all take to do our part.

  1. Scoop dog poop
  2. Use little or no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides
  3. Wash your car at a commercial car wash, instead of on the street.
  4. Walk, bike, take public transit or carshare
  5. Plant and protect native evergreens
  6. Keep your car properly maintained
  7. Keep water on site with rain gardens, green roofs, and cisterns.

The simple actions take very little time or money and are things each of us can do to be a part of the solution.

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