King County is bringing together Tribes, cities, counties, state and federal agencies, universities, and businesses throughout the Puget Sound region to reduce stormwater pollution, one of the greatest threats to local water quality.
King County Executive Dow Constantine recently hosted a regional summit with Tribal leaders, state and federal agency leaders, water quality experts, university researchers, and cities and counties throughout Central Puget Sound to pursue regional solutions to stormwater pollution, one of the greatest threats to water quality in the Puget Sound watershed.
Stormwater is runoff that occurs during rainfall, pushing toxics – motor oil, metals, pesticides, fertilizer, and pet waste – directly into rivers, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound. Experts determined that it has contributed to the dramatic decline in native salmon populations, which threatens the survival of southern resident orcas that rely on them for food. It also impacts human health by making it less safe to eat local fish and swim in lakes and Puget Sound.
“Reducing the stormwater pollution that threatens the health of people, wildlife and Puget Sound requires collaboration, creativity, and commitment throughout the entire watershed,” said Executive Constantine. “By basing our decisions on the latest science, and investing in solutions with multiple benefits, we will build a healthier, more resilient future.”
During a series of technical workshops over the past two years hosted by the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, experts identified four goal areas that could produce measurable results for people, salmon, and orcas:
- Create regional stormwater parks that protect water quality and provide more equitable access to healthy, welcoming greenspace
- Treat polluted runoff from roadways that is killing coho salmon before they can spawn
- Restore natural flows by capturing, filtering, and slowing stormwater, preventing flooding and erosion
- Control upstream sources of toxic pollutants where interventions can prevent exposure and reduce the need for expensive cleanup
More than 200 people participated in the half-day summit with representatives from 39 cities, five counties, four Tribal nations, four state agencies, three federal agencies, three universities, and 11 non-governmental organizations.
A team of researchers from Washington State University and the University of Washington a few years ago discovered that chemicals in tire dust are killing adult coho salmon in their native streams before they can spawn. Experts participating in the regional stormwater summit want to explore the best opportunities to treat the polluted runoff that is currently coming from roadways.
As King County accelerates open space preservation – thanks to voters approving Executive Constantine’s initiative that restored conservation funding to its original rate – it creates more opportunities to protect wetlands and forests that capture and filter rainwater. It also creates more opportunities to build regional stormwater parks that simultaneously filter water pollution and provide more equitable access to healthy greenspace.
The Department of Natural Resources and Parks has successfully completed major habitat restoration projects along the Green and Cedar rivers – including čakwab, pronounced "chock-wab," and Riverbend – that recreate the complex habitat that young salmon need to survive their journey to the Pacific Ocean and provide food for Puget Sound orcas. Executive Constantine and other participants in the stormwater summit want to reduce the amount of polluted stormwater that salmon encounter downstream to maximize the positive effects of upstream restoration projects.
Polluted stormwater – not sewage – is the bigger threat to water quality today
Sewage was the biggest threat to the region’s water quality during the first half of the 20th century. Since the mid-1960s, King County has built, expanded, and maintained a regional system that treats more than 66 billion gallons of wastewater and stormwater each year.
The Wastewater Treatment Division recently activated a state-of-the-art treatment station in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle that better protects the Lower Duwamish and Puget Sound from stormwater pollution during heavy rainfall. Crews are now installing onsite batteries at West Point Treatment Plant, providing operators with more reliable, high-quality power.
The bigger threat today is the estimated 118 billion gallons of polluted stormwater that do not make it into the treatment system each year.
There are actions that households and businesses can take to reduce stormwater pollution:
- Reduce the amount of toxic tire dust that washes into waterways by driving less and walking, biking, and taking public transit more often
- Maintain your car, fixing oil leaks and reducing emissions
- Wash your car at a professional carwash instead of on your lawn
- Practice natural lawn care
- Pick up your pet’s waste
- VIDEO: Regional solutions for polluted stormwater
- VIDEO: Using science to protect water quality for people, salmon, and orcas
- INFOGRAPHIC: Reducing stormwater pollution, the growing threat to water quality in King County
- STORYMAP: Identifying the best opportunities to produce the best results for water quality
- TRACKS: An interactive map of environmental stewardship in King County
Reducing the stormwater pollution that threatens the health of people, wildlife and Puget Sound requires collaboration, creativity, and commitment throughout the entire watershed. By basing our decisions on the latest science, and investing in solutions with multiple benefits, we will build a healthier, more resilient future.
Clean water is a cornerstone for everything we value and treasure in King County, including thriving salmon and orca populations, safe places to swim, and our observation of Tribal treaty rights. But unmanaged, dirty stormwater threatens all of those things and much more. By joining with Tribes, local governments, agency partners and the public from across the region, we can dramatically improve water quality to ensure clean water is the rule – not the exception – for years to come.
Stormwater is one of the biggest threats to salmon and orcas and the Tribes’ treaty reserved rights. We need to take immediate action to remove toxic pollutants – such as 6PPD from car tires – that are killing salmon. Previous generations answered the call when harmful chemicals such as DDT threatened the survival of native fish. This is our generation’s opportunity to do the same.
At The Nature Conservancy, we found when you set out to map pollution, you actually end up with a pretty good roads and highways map because the runoff is coming from these hard urban surfaces. The good news is: nature has a solution. When you stand in a well-designed stormwater park, it doesn’t feel like you’re in an engineered water quality project. You feel like you’re in a park. Success looks like stormwater solutions that benefit people and nature.
Issaquah continues to work on stormwater treatment, recognizing the impact it has on not only our water quality, but the salmon and other wildlife that need pollutant free water to thrive. Protecting our natural environment through the stewardship of our watershed will improve conditions in Issaquah’s many creeks and streams, as well as Lake Sammamish. I am so proud to live in a collaborative region like ours.
WSDOT recognizes the strong connection between water quality and salmon recovery. Our agency has a long-standing stormwater retrofit program that includes project triggered retrofits, stand-alone retrofits and other retrofits as the opportunity arises that go above and beyond our permit required stormwater treatment. We believe our state’s success in addressing our shared stormwater challenges is dependent upon partnerships and everyone working together to make significant gains to improve water quality and ultimately salmon recovery. We look forward to making continued progress together on this important issue.
For more information, contact:
Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-477-4543