Special report for Puget Sound policymakers

2016-17 Special Report for Puget Sound Policymakers

Download the 44-page 2016-17 Special Report for Puget Sound Policymakers (PDF)

It used to seem easier to spot the polluters. There were the usual suspects: Industrial pipes pumped toxic chemicals into the water; dams blocked the way for salmon; natural resources were over-harvested. Those problems still persist, but ecosystem management in Puget Sound has become increasingly complicated since the 1970s and 1980s.

Scientists now recognize that what happens on the land is intricately tied to the health of the water. We face climate change and unprecedented population growth, and scientists have identified thousands of different human-caused pressures on the ecosystem. The headlines include new threats like stormwater, emerging contaminants and widespread declines in species and habitats. Given limited resources, how can managers and policymakers make informed decisions about where to focus their recovery efforts?

To help with this, we have created a new collection of stories from Salish Sea Currents. This is our second booklet of this type, and it includes reporting on new and emerging science that we believe everyone should read. The stories are wide-ranging, but, like an ecosystem, are connected in important ways.

We start with a look at the impacts of seals and sea lions on the region’s threatened Chinook populations. As many as one in five juvenile Chinook are eaten before they can migrate to open waters. That means many fewer are maturing to adulthood and returning to spawn. It also means significantly less food for the region’s endangered killer whales, which depend on Chinook for about 81% of their diet.

Seal vs Salmon. West End, Vancouver, BC. Photo: cesareb (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/cesareb/8620647452

Seal vs Salmon. West End, Vancouver, BC. Photo: cesareb (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/cesareb/8620647452

It is a classic illustration of the food web. Seals and sea lions have been increasing due to federal protections, but they have always had a healthy appetite for salmon. Are they the villains here, or is something else at play? Scientists suspect a variety of threats make the Chinook more vulnerable to what should otherwise be a normal pressure. Contaminants in the water as well as habitat loss from shoreline armoring are just two examples of threats that could be weakening Chinook, and we have several stories in this collection that intersect.

Not everything is bad news. We close out the collection with a story about the return of the harbor porpoise. Known as “the puffing pig,” the harbor porpoise had all but disappeared from Puget Sound in the 1970s due to factors like gillnetting and industrial pollutants. The species is still considered to be at risk in the Salish Sea, but its population is on the rise and it is hoped that Puget Sound cleanup efforts can ensure healthy numbers in the future. It is just one reminder that we can make a difference if we understand the ecosystem’s problems and their causes. Good science reporting can help to build that understanding, and we hope this collection of stories continues that tradition.

You can download the 44-page report as a PDF, or contact us if you would like a print version. We’ll also have many new stories in the coming months on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Funding for the report was provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.


PSI-sponsored session at CERF

CERF 2017 banner

CERF 2017 banner

The Puget Sound Institute is sponsoring a session at the November 2017 meeting of the Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) in Providence, Rhode Island. The session will focus on technical support for ecosystem management and is now accepting abstracts for presentations.

Session title:

From objectives to actions: technical support for ecosystem management planning

Lead Convener: Tessa B Francis
Co-Convener: Aimee Kinney

Visit the CERF website for more information. 


PSI hosts modeling workshop

A big thanks to everyone in the house and on the webinar for the february 15th workshop: Modeling in Support of Ecosystem Recovery. Photo by Kris Symer.

A big thanks to everyone who attended our February 15th workshop, ‘Modeling in Support of Ecosystem Recovery.’ Photo by Kris Symer.

The Puget Sound Institute is hosting a workshop on “Modeling in Support of Ecosystem Recovery,” on February 15, 2017, from 10am – 4pm, at the South Seattle Community College Georgetown Campus, 6737 Corson Avenue South, Seattle, 98108.

This workshop brings together modelers, Strategic Initiative Leads, Implementation Strategy (IS) team members, PSP Science Panel members, PSP Leadership Council members, EPA, tribes, and key stakeholders to discuss how to support Puget Sound recovery planning and implementation with modeling. We will take a multi-scale perspective, and use the Estuaries Implementation Strategy (IS) as a case study of how models can be used within ISs, and as a way of helping advance the Estuaries IS. We will also discuss modeling at the system scale, including needs and capacity.

Space is limited, so PLEASE RSVP. Remote attendance will be possible (via WebEx), but all attendees should RSVP to ensure they receive information as it becomes available.

View the workshop agenda. 


White House announces blueprint for agency cooperation in Puget Sound

White House CEQ managing Director Christy Goldfuss speaking at a press conference in Seattle today.

White House CEQ managing director Christy Goldfuss speaking at a press conference in Seattle today. Photo by Jeff Rice.

The Obama administration today approved the establishment of a new federal task force to prioritize agency actions for Puget Sound recovery.

The announcement came from Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“We understand we have a critical role to play here in Puget Sound,” said Goldfuss, speaking at a press conference in Seattle. The new task force will serve as a blueprint for increased federal cooperation and is part of a memorandum of understanding signed today by the White House and nine federal agencies.

Goldfuss was joined at the conference by Washington governor Jay Inslee, congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon and several state and federal administrators.

Also announced was a recommendation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to commit $452 million dollars to the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project. The money will support three estuary recovery projects, including the Duckabush River Estuary project, the Nooksack River Delta restoration and the North Fork Skagit River Delta project.

Final funding for the estuary projects must still be approved by congress, but Governor Inslee was optimistic that the funds would be forthcoming. “Once you have laid the keel of the ship, the ship tends to get built,” he said.


Puget Sound Day on the Hill 2016


U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer introduced new stormwater legislation today.

Local agencies and stakeholders—including PSI— were in D.C. today to advocate for Puget Sound. Follow some of the action on social media, including Twitter posts at #saveoursound and #saveamericassound. Among the day’s highlights was a new stormwater bill introduced by Representative Derek Kilmer, who announced the legislation on Facebook.

Read the full text of H.R.4648 – Green Stormwater Infrastructure Investment Act.


In the news: UWT talk aims to root methanol debate in science

TacomaNewsTribuneLogoThe News Tribune reported on an upcoming discussion series on a proposed methanol plant in Tacoma. The series is sponsored in part by our parent group the Center for Urban Waters at the University of Washington.

Columnist Matt Driscoll writes:
  • A four-part series on Tacoma’s proposed methanol plant starts Thursday at UWT
  • Joel Baker, the science director at the Center for Urban Waters, hopes to focus on the facts
  • Whether Tacomans will be receptive remains to be seen

Read more about the discussion series.


In the news: Radiolab event will feature PSI’s water detectives

TacomaNewsTribuneLogoThere is a nice story in The News Tribune today on the upcoming Radiolab event in Tacoma. The January 22nd show at the Pantages Theater will focus on Northwest water issues and features a panel of environmental leaders, including PSI Director Joel Baker. The paper calls Joel and his lab “the ‘CSI’ of water science” and highlights some of their research into the high prevalence of household chemicals in local waterways.

“What we find in the water is by and large what you find in your house, from refrigerators to medicine cabinets,” Baker told the paper. The article describes how Baker and his group at the Center for Urban Waters are finding everything from artificial sweeteners to long-banned substances like DDT in nearby Puget Sound. Known as emerging contaminants, these substances often escape filtration systems and can be found in levels that, although tiny—sometimes in the parts per billion or even trillion—can still be potentially harmful.

Baker will be one of several panelists interviewed onstage by Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich. Other panelists include Ryan Mello of the Pierce Conservation District, Puget Sound Partnership’s Sheida Sahandy, and Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative. The event will focus on local water issues and will also go behind the scenes of the popular Radiolab podcast and radio series.

‘Inside Radiolab’ will interview PSI Director and other Puget Sound area panelists

1280px-WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgOur Director Joel Baker is part of a panel of four environmental leaders in Puget Sound who will be interviewed onstage at the Inside Radiolab show next week in Tacoma. Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will host the January 22nd event at the Pantages Theater where he will interview panelists about Northwest water issues.

In addition to Baker, other panelists include Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, Ryan Mello, Executive Director of Pierce Conservation District and Sheida Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Radiolab’s quirky take on science has made it one of the Internet’s most popular podcasts, with more than 4 million downloads. It is also broadcast on over 450 public radio stations around the country. The live theater presentation will go behind the scenes of the show, with Krulwich talking about how he and his co-host Jad Abumrad create some of radio’s most compelling science journalism. The show begins at 7:30.

Read more about the event.


Ocean Modeling Forum to hold Pacific Herring Summit June 8-10

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

Puget Sound Institute lead ecologist Tessa Francis is co-chair of an upcoming summit to examine the human dimensions of Pacific herring fisheries in the Salish Sea. The forum brings together “social and natural scientists, tribes and First Nations, and federal and state managers” to identify new approaches to ecosystem-based management, including the use of traditional ecologic knowledge and social networks.

The summit will be held from June 8-10 in British Columbia.  Read more at the Ocean Modeling Forum website. 

Related article (UW Today): Ocean Modeling Forum to bring human element to herring fishery, others


Airport offers a glimpse at tightening stormwater regulations

Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Sea-Tac Airport with Mt Rainier and Central Terminal in background. Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson

Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Sea-Tac Airport with Mt Rainier and Central Terminal in background. Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson

How does one of the West’s busiest airports deal with extreme stormwater, and what does that mean for water quality standards in the rest of the state?

Read the latest article from Salish Sea Currents in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. 


Puget Sound stormwater fixes could cost billions

Raindrops on a cafe window.  Photo: Jim Culp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimculp/7140363701

Raindrops on a cafe window. Photo: Jim Culp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimculp/7140363701

Pollution from stormwater has been called one of the greatest threats to Puget Sound. How much will it cost to hold back the rain? A new EPA-funded study says the price could reach billions per year, a figure that dwarfs current state and federal allocations.

Read the article in Salish Sea Currents.