Federal grants aim to protect Puget Sound watersheds

For decades, transforming Puget Sound’s forest lands, fields and shorelines into places for new homes and businesses often has come at the expense of the environment.

While development reduces fish and wildlife habitat, it can also have other negative environmental effects such as diminishing the effectiveness of wetlands and floodplains to filter, cleanse and control polluted runoff – also known as stormwater – which is the number one pollution threat to urban waters and Puget Sound.

The Washington departments of Commerce and Ecology are working to help reverse this trend by offering $1.7 million in federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 10 local projects designed to improve the health of Puget Sound watersheds.

On tap to get the funding are the cities of Arlington, Duvall, Mountlake Terrace, Seattle and Tacoma and Island, King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. A full list of the grant award offers, including project descriptions, is at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/puget_sound/grants_fed_watershed.html.

Ecology Director Maia Bellon said: “Puget Sound is a major driver for Washington’s economy and our quality of life. Healthy watersheds are key to a healthy Sound. To help ensure our communities prosper while they grow, we need to look at innovative ways to develop our lands in ways that also protect our environment. These grants will help us achieve that goal.”

Department of Commerce Director Brian Bonlender said, “Protecting and improving the health of Puget Sound helps to attract and retain companies that value a high quality of life for their employees. These innovative programs demonstrate that solutions exist to support existing and new industry without sacrificing health of our environment.”

Many recipients being offered grants will work with city, county, tribal and other partners to complete the projects. They will use the EPA funding to adopt innovative approaches for planning development, updating water quality protection regulations, restoring riparian (streamside) areas –the transition zones where land and waters meet – and undertaking watershed-based land use planning.

Highlights of the benefits of this funding include:

Helping Duvall update its comprehensive land use plan and municipal codes and incorporate low impact development strategies to better control stormwater runoff in the city’s watersheds. Low impact development practices mimic the natural environment to help control and manage urban runoff.
Affording Island County the opportunity to revise its critical areas ordinance to help improve and protect fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas.
Assisting Snohomish County in revising its regulations to include low impact development requirements for land use projects.

The pollutants in our watersheds come from many scattered, hard-to-trace sources that often are miles from the marine shoreline. The multi-agency Puget Sound Toxics Assessment found the most common way toxic chemicals reach Puget Sound watersheds is through polluted runoff that flows off our developed residential, commercial and industrial lands.

Some of the local watershed projects will focus on developing plans and improving regulations to help reduce the amount of  runoff as well as levels of toxic pollutants and other contaminants it contains.

Preventing pollution from urban runoff and protecting and restoring habitat are among the top priorities outlined in the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda – the science-based plan to restore Puget Sound. Armed with the Action Agenda, the state now receives federal EPA dollars for which it otherwise would not have qualified.

The Partnership is the state agency responsible for ensuring public dollars spent on Puget Sound recovery are used effectively. The agency prioritizes recovery projects and coordinates the action of the more than 750 organizations working together to restore the health of Puget Sound.

Partnership Interim Executive Director Marc Daily said: “These projects will help build on our collective efforts to protect and restore Puget Sound for future generations. They demonstrate how we are using federal dollars smartly to advance science-based projects to restore our watersheds, improve water quality and protect Puget Sound.”

Since 2010, EPA has provided $48.4 million in targeted grant funding to Washington state agencies to restore and protect Puget Sound.

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