Did you know that you have authority to enforce federal clean water laws to stop pollution? You do.
This is what Puget Soundkeeper does with you, and on your behalf. It’s community-driven enforcement. And, it’s essential.
Puget Sound is in trouble. Despite its obvious beauty and value to the community, the ecosystem is on the brink of collapse.
Twenty one species of wildlife are listed as “threatened” or “endangered,” including orcas, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
Some salmon runs are depleted to just 1 percent of historic levels, ruining a tribal, recreational and commercial fishing legacy.
More than 1,000 rivers, streams and lakes are listed as “impaired,” meaning they do not safely support swimming and fishing.
Beaches and shellfish beds are often closed because of bacterial contamination.
In urban areas, fish consumption advisories are common, warning residents of toxic contamination that is often many times above safe consumption levels, depriving the community of valuable resources.
The single largest source of toxic pollution to Puget Sound is stormwater — which is rainwater that washes over hard surfaces (like pavement), carrying pollutants with it out into Puget Sound. Experts estimate that stormwater results in dumping up to 94 million pounds of toxic pollutants every year.
Many toxic pollutants are lethal to salmon even at very low levels.
Fortunately, we still have strong laws protecting our right to swimmable, fishable, drinkable waterways. This includes the federal Clean Water Act, and the permits issued under it. But, they are only as strong as their enforcement. Unfortunately, compliance by some industries remains painfully low.
But, is compliance possible?
Yes. Stormwater treatment technology has never been more widespread, effective and affordable. Many companies have already installed the technology needed to ensure they aren’t polluting. But, not everyone.
Wait — doesn’t our government protect us from this?
No, not entirely. Under the weight of political pressure and resource restrictions, the state agencies in charge of protecting us from water pollution aren’t able to do the job alone.
Put simply, industrial stormwater polluters are not employing proven measures to protect water. Except for cases of citizen enforcement, nobody is making them do it. That’s where you come in.
Puget Soundkeeper holds polluters accountable by enforcing clean water laws when needed to stop pollution from harming the waterways you use and love. This includes both marine waters and all of the rivers, streams and creeks that flow into them. Our “community lawsuits” are vital to protecting local waterways so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
But, do these lawsuits work?
Yes, quite well. Just like a speeding ticket slows traffic, enforcement reduces pollution.
Here’s one example:
In 2017, Puget Soundkeeper became aware of a 168 acre privately owned landfill located in Graham, Washington, that was discharging polluted stormwater to Muck Creek, a tributary to the Nisqually River. The creek provides habitat for chum salmon, steelhead trout and sea-run cutthroat trout.
Not only was the landfill’s stormwater polluted, but it was also experiencing episodes of leachate (garbage juice) going rogue. Sampling data showed nasty toxics like heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Our state agencies were aware of the problem, but apparently unable to take the action needed to stop it. Bummer. Disappointing. Gross. And not allowed.
So, we stepped in. We filed a lawsuit to stop the pollution.
And, we won! On Dec. 10, we filed a court order to resolve the case. It requires massive onsite improvements to reduce stormwater pollution and stop leachate discharges — and payment of $734,000 to fund local environmental benefit projects. Puget Soundkeeper doesn’t keep any of this money. It goes into a grant fund to be administered to third parties in order to heal the harm caused by the pollution. We believe the landfill is turning over a new leaf, and we will track their progress closely to ensure that’s the case.
Everyone has the right to clean water. We do this work on behalf of our members — and we hope that includes you. If you haven’t yet joined, please visit: www.pugetsoundkeeper.org and sign up. Mention this story to claim the coolest octopus sticker in town, designed by our favorite tattoo artist Kyler Martz. And, come hang out with us! We’d love to see you at our next event, and chat more about solutions for a healthier Puget Sound.
Read the full Jan. 1-7 issue.
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