A version of this post originally appeared in the Citizens for a Healthy Bay newsletter.
In 2011, Puget Soundkeeper discovered that Trident Seafoods’ facility on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma was reporting alarming levels of pollutants in their stormwater discharge. In order to curb such pollution, all industrial operations require a discharge permit from the Department of Ecology that sets parameters for the cleanliness of the water that washes off their site into public streams, rivers and bays. However, Trident was not meeting those requirements — not by a long shot. The stormwater coming from their facility contained high levels of metals like copper and zinc.
To protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound, Puget Soundkeeper resolved to take legal action against Trident Seafoods in 2011. The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, allows individuals or communities to file a lawsuit against any entity who has allegedly violated a regulation. The Clean Water Act empowers organizations like Soundkeeper to take action in situations where excessive pollution by corporate entities isn’t being handled by the agency in charge.
Under resourced and under political pressure, the Washington Department of Ecology is often unable or unwilling to conduct the enforcement necessary to ensure the compliance needed to protect local waterways. Soundkeeper’s enforcement is a driving force for permit enforcement in the region. In fact, this wasn’t the first time Soundkeeper had taken action against Trident Seafoods; Soundkeeper had taken legal action against Trident once before in 2007. And although that case ended in agreement that Trident would improve operations and install treatment systems to clean their runoff, they failed to take action and instead asked the Department of Ecology for leniency on the treatment requirement. Given Trident’s history of disregard for environmental laws, Soundkeeper believed strong, urgent action was necessary to ensure the prompt and critical protection of the Hylebos Waterway.
In the 31 years that Soundkeeper has been in existence, we’ve brought over 160 community Clean Water Act lawsuits, and settled every one. We achieved settlement in the second case with Trident cooperatively with a consent decree — a document that clearly states the required steps to improve their site. This time, Trident fulfilled their agreement. The facility now has an advanced stormwater treatment system, which filters out a number of pollutants and has dramatically decreased the amount of pollution coming from the site. We are delighted to say Trident worked hard to comply with the regulations, and the results are remarkable.
In an ideal world, every industry would accept their responsibility to protect our waterways. The marine life in Commencement Bay is under constant threat, and help cannot wait. Companies like Trident Seafoods, who depend on healthy populations of marine life, should be a leader in protecting them. Unfortunately, people who disregard the law will always exist. Community enforcement is a powerful tool for defending the resources that we all share and that we must protect if we hope to have clean water and healthy wildlife in the future.