by Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper

April 22 was Earth Day. Do you know where your planet is?

What did you do for Earth Day? Did you plant a tree? Clean up a beach? Engage in a celebration? Protest Arctic drilling? Bicycle to work? If so, congratulations, and thank you! If not… don’t worry. The good news is we still have 364 more days in the year to make a difference, plus an energized and activated community helping to make our world a better place.

FUN EARTH DAY FACT: Beginning in 1970, the first Earth Day was the largest simultaneous demonstration in our nation’s history. Citizens rose up to demand an end to rivers catching fire (like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland), massive oil spills (like the 1969 Santa Barbara spill), and toxic chemicals in the environment such as DDT, which threatened the survival of birds like the bald eagle, our national symbol. Earth Day 1970 was a bipartisan effort that changed the course of governmental policy regarding the environment in very significant ways.

Earth Day is a time when we come together to honor and celebrate something so important, so basic, so essential to our existence. And Earth Day is a time when we take a stand. On this day in 1970, people rose up and demanded change. And they got it.

Within three years we had the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Air Act ­and the EPA was created. In the next decade we would begin to regulate acid rain, install advanced sewage treatment, list and protect endangered species, and phase out some of the worst toxic chemicals. Our world is cleaner and healthier today as a result. But of course work remains.

At Puget Soundkeeper, we like to say every day is Earth Day. But like many others, April 22 also holds special opportunities and significance for us. It is a great time to connect with our volunteers, supporters and the many interested people who care about our waters, wildlife, communities and climate. So, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, and with our largest staff in 30+ years, you might expect it was a busy day around the Soundkeeper office. You’d be right.


We began the day by helping our friends at Gary Manuel Salon who organized their annual cleanup of the Belltown neighborhood as part of AVEDA Earth Month efforts. Teresa and Erica (Soundkeeper’s all-star Development Team) teamed up with our “heroes in black” as they cleaned the streets and even under bridges. The big items? Cigarette butts and over 25 syringes (needles)! As Teresa put it: “bags and bags full of disgusting debris, we could have stayed out all day!” also adding: “the people passing by really appreciated it”. The recovery of the needles is a stark reminder that environmental problems are usually related to health or safety problems in some way. Thanks for the Earth Day help Gary Manuel!

FUN EARTH DAY FACT: Every year around the world, AVEDA salons raise money for their favorite local NGO Earth Month Partners. Their theme: Water. Their Puget Sound Partner for the last 7 years? Puget Soundkeeper! Thank you to Gary Manuel and all AVEDA salons and Experience Centers for all you do for clean water in Puget Sound! You are amazing!

OF COURSE, we were also on the water on Earth Day: Paul Fredrickson, Sue Joerger and Jimmy Pasch led a group of 8 volunteers in kayaks, launching out of Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union for our weekly kayak clean up and pollution patrol. We removed 78 pounds of trash from Seattle’s urban lake, which is also home to eagles, beaver, salmon, turtles and herons. Sue describes “obsessing over picking up tiny pieces of white Styrofoam, pink, purple and blue pieces of plastic, and one yellow ducky”. Thanks Sue…and welcome back!


FUN EARTH DAY FACT: One of the original founders of Earth Day was Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. One-third of Soundkeeper’s staff also come from Wisconsin….coincidence?

Educational Earth Day: Our Americorps member Michelle Piñon and our Stewardship Coordinator Kathryn Davis conducted outreach to share our Puget Sound stewardship message with the next generation of leaders at North Seattle Community College’s Earth Day Symposium. Topics ranged from toxic-free safe seafood, to preventing polluted stormwater runoff, to cleaning up marine debris, to environmental justice for all of our communities.

FUN EARTH DAY FACT: The original Earth Day was planned in Seattle, as a series of college “teach-ins” to highlight the importance of a clean environment. Way to carry this forward Kathryn and Michelle! (Note: Kathryn and Michelle are especially busy for the entire month of April, also working the Saturdays both before and after Earth Day to clean up the Duwamish River and Snohomish Estuary. Go team!)

Michelle tabling

Our legal team was also hard at work: Staff attorney Katelyn Kinn, our counsel Knoll Lowney and Marc Zemel, and I attended an all-day mediation with a stormwater polluter in gross violation of the Clean Water Act. It was familiar territory, a polluter that did not have a permit to discharge polluted stormwater. Yes, we would have rather been at an Earth Day Celebration like the one at Seattle Central Community College, featuring Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle’s own Earth Day co-founder Denis Hayes, discussing big topics like environmental justice and climate change. We’d also like to say we hammered out an agreement, but this Earth Day mediation settlement was not to be. Although the vast majority of our cases settle out of court, resulting in significant environmental benefits, not every defendant sees compliance as a primary objective. This case will now move have to move forward with or without their cooperation. The good news is the Clean Water Act is clear and there is still time for these folks to see the light and agree to take the steps that hundreds of others have already made to monitor and clean up their toxic stormwater pollution. Here is a Recent Success.

FUN EARTH DAY FACT: As a direct result of the first Earth Day in 1970, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, setting a new national goal “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters”. Congress went on to ensure that citizens have a right to enforce the Clean Water Act when agencies fail to do so in order to protect Swimmable, Drinkable and Fishable waters. Since 1993, Soundkeeper has settled over 160 Clean Water Act cases, achieving compliance in sewage overflows, stormwater pollution and industrial wastewater and awarding over $3.5 million in settlement fees to 3rd party groups performing environmental benefit projects.

Meanwhile back at the Soundkeeper Ranch: To keep our team in the field, even Earth Day includes the all-important dedicated planning, finance and office work by the rest of the Soundkeeper Staff: On this day it was Julie, Amelia, Andy and Katie doing the essential work around the office to keep us on the water every week, stopping pollution every day. They manned Soundkeeper Central, answering phones and emails, administering accounts, and planning a summer’s worth of Clean Boating events. Thanks for all you do!

FUN EARTH DAY FACT: Formed shortly after Earth Day 1984, the Puget Sound Alliance (as we were once named) was the first organization devoted exclusively to the health of Puget Sound. Our first major accomplishment was securing better sewage treatment for METRO/Seattle’s West Point Sewage Treatment plant.

At one point in time Earth Day was written into our policies as a staff holiday. Not anymore…we have work to do!

Thanks to all of our volunteers, Board and staff, and for the support we get from YOU. We truly have the best team imaginable!