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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Transforming King County’s approach to protecting water quality to ensure survival of native salmon and Puget Sound orcas

Summary

A new strategic plan approved by King County Executive Dow Constantine will turn the Clean Water Healthy Habitat initiative he launched in 2019 into action, aligning efforts with partners to achieve clearly defined goals throughout the Central Puget Sound region.

Story

Achieving Clearly Defined Outcomes poster showing orca jumping and a series of icons.

King County Executive Dow Constantine today announced a strategic plan that will transform the county’s approach to protecting water quality and improving habitat to ensure the survival of native salmon populations and Puget Sound orcas. 

The strategic plan defines six measurable goals for Clean Water Healthy Habitat, an initiative Executive Constantine launched in 2019 to achieve better results faster than the current approach. It will help ensure that the estimated $9 billion that King County will invest over the next decade to protect water quality and habitat will be apply the principles of equity and social justice, apply the latest science, and align with regional partners to achieve outcomes throughout the Puget Sound watershed.

Despite decades of innovative actions and infrastructure improvements, native salmon populations continue to decline while southern resident orcas remain on the brink of extinction. Ensuring their survival is becoming even more difficult as the region experiences the effects of climate change and increased development, with more rain falling on impervious surfaces, pushing more pollutants directly into streams, rivers, lakes, and Puget Sound.

“Clean Water Healthy Habitat is my promise to all living things that call this spectacular place home - to produce better results faster for each public dollar we invest,” said Executive Constantine. “With a new approach based on science, focused on outcomes, and committed to racial justice, we will work with our partners throughout Central Puget Sound to achieve clearly defined goals for people, salmon, and orcas.”

The strategic plan identifies six goal areas to achieve over the next 30 years, accelerating work that, in some cases, would take 100 years or more to achieve under the current approach. The six goal areas are:

  • Healthy forests and more greenspaces: Forest cover and greenspaces are equitably distributed and permanently protected to sustain habitat, store carbon, clean air, cool waters and air temperatures, and promote natural streamflows
  • Cleaner, controlled stormwater runoff: Stormwater has less contaminants, pathogens, or nutrients, and water levels and streamflows are healthy for fish and other aquatic life
  • Reduced toxics and fecal pathogens: People can safely eat locally caught marine and freshwater fish, and swimming beaches and shellfish beds are not closed due to sewer failures and overflows
  • Functional river floodplains: Achieve a 3,000-acre net increase in connected floodplain with native vegetation and cooler water temperatures while reducing flood risk to people and structures and supporting agriculture
  • Better habitat for fish: Native wild fish populations are thriving and self-sustaining, people can enjoy locally caught fish, and Tribes have abundant salmon to provide for their economic prosperity and honor their cultural heritage
  • Resilient marine shorelines: Beach and marine habitats are protected and restored to their natural states, fewer structures are vulnerable to sea level rise, fewer people are in harm’s way, and Treaty fishing and shell fishing rights are honored

King County scientists are working with experts at universities, Tribes, regulatory agencies, and cities to develop a water quality toolkit that will compare potential investments and costs by how well they reduce pollutants to achieve specific goals, such as edible fish, shellfish harvesting, beach swimming, more chinook salmon, and more fish for orcas. The county will make the toolkit available to decision-makers throughout Central Puget Sound so that partners can produce results at a watershed level.

Actions to protect water quality traditionally focus on reducing specific pollutants without considering its broader impact or whether it has a meaningful benefit to people, salmon, and orcas. Under this new approach, King County will work with its partners on a unified approach that will achieve shared goals.

King County is also wrapping up a full inventory of fish barriers in county ownership. This inventory will allow for restoration work to be directed in areas that have the most habitat to gain, thereby contributing to salmon recovery and honoring tribal treaty rights.

Unifying efforts to create a more just, equitable habitat for all living things

Executive Constantine in September 2019 signed an Executive Order creating Clean Water Healthy Habitat. The first phase better aligned King County programs, initiatives, and services – such as protecting open spaces, reducing stormwater pollution, removing barriers to fish habitat, planting trees, reducing flood risks, removing noxious weeds, and supporting local farmers – to achieve multiple benefits with each action.

The initiative will ensure that each action the county takes to promote clean water and healthy habitat will simultaneously help dismantle the system racism that persists in King County. When the county restores habitat, protects water quality, preserves greenspace, plants trees, and de-paves surfaces, it will act first in BIPOC communities where the need is greatest.

Reducing stormwater pollution, potentially the greatest threat today to clean water

One of the key goal areas of the initiative is to reduce stormwater pollution, runoff that occurs to heavy rainfall, pushing motor oil, metals, pesticides, pet waste, and more directly into streams, rivers, lakes, and Puget Sound. Scientists believe it is potentially be one of the greatest threats to water quality and habitat today.

At one point, sewage was the biggest threat to water quality in King County. But over the past six decades, the county has built a regional system that now treats more than 66 billion gallons of wastewater and stormwater each year. Under Clean Water Healthy Habitat, the county will work with partners to better understand the threat posed the estimated 118 billion gallons of polluted stormwater that is not currently treated and which solutions will be the most effective. 


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Quotes

Clean Water Healthy Habitat is my promise to all living things that call this spectacular place home - to produce better results faster for each public dollar we invest. With a new approach based on science, focused on outcomes, and committed to racial justice, we will work with our partners throughout Central Puget Sound to achieve clearly defined goals for people, salmon, and orcas.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

Puget Sound waters are our region’s lifeblood, supporting our economic, social, and cultural vitality. Increasing pressures from climate change and development have exacerbated legacy pollution, threatening the quality and quantity of water that we all depend on. In many places, we see a false choice between improving human health outcomes and advancing environmental recovery. But King County's approach to protecting water quality puts us in a position to achieve both – focusing on outcomes for both people and nature.

Jessie Israel, Puget Sound Conservation Director, The Nature Conservancy

We appreciate King County’s willingness to take a hard look at its programs and progress, ask good questions, and propose bold action to achieve outcomes at a watershed scale for people and for fish.

Laura Blackmore, Executive Director, Puget Sound Partnership

For more information, contact:

Chad Lewis, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-263-1250


King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography