State of the Sound by Bill Ruckelshaus

Sound Waters 2010 meeting, Coupeville, WA

It is possible to make progess!

  • We’ve largely brought point-sources under social control.  40 years ago, 85% of pollution was from big industrial or municipal sources, while 15% was from non-point sources.  Now the percentages are reversed.
  • The Clean Air Act helped.  Think of the people in Denver that can see the mountains now, and the people in Los Angeles who can see each other.
  • The Clean Water Act helped.  We don’t have rivers catching on fire any more.

It is much more difficult to detect and manage the non-point pollution sources!

  • We must raise awareness to solve these legacy problems.
  • We’ve found there are two things people really don’t like in urban planning: sprawl and density!
  • Jim Wilcock (prominent farmer) and Billy Frank (Nisqually tribe) showed that effective lowland development and estuary restoration is possible in Puget Sound.  They’ve been in process of implementing their plan for 20 years and they’ve received the most stimulus money of all Puget Sound organizations (though the Nisqually isn’t the most important river).  They have a plan, they agree on solutions, and they are good at seeking funds from the Government.
  • Sammish River has a fecal coliform problem that has shut down Taylor Shellfish multiple times.  The pollution could be coming from many possible sources: cows, ponies, buffalo farm, septic systems, geese…  You can guess what happens: everyone says it’s the geese.  Mac Kaufman of Dept. of Ecology is able to broker solutions, but many regulators aren’t so skilled.  But the fundamental problem in these non-point source solutions is that Americans are happy to agree there is a problem that should be solved, but are rarely willing to change their behavior.
  • Here on Whidbey you have some good plans (e.g. Salmon Recovery Funding Board projects).


  • Dick Feely: How are climate change (sea level rise, ocean acidification) being addressed by the Partnership?  The Partnership’s contribution to reducing carbon flux to the atmosphere will be small compared to other entities.  The UW climate solutions group is trying to tell us what the Northwest effects will be and we will try to help mitigate the impacts.
  • What is the status of the stormwater cleanup bill the State government is considering?  We’re thinking about it.  There has been no decision to increase the tax, but many think it should go into the general budget to fund services that are being cut due to the economic downturn.  Some may be spent on environmental cleanup and that may increase proportionally over time.  (Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound helped answer this.)
  • Are brake pad manufacters supporting the brake pad legislation?  Heather says some are and some aren’t.  Bill says: It will be easy if there is an alternative.
  • In 1970 when I moved here, if you drove to Everett to Tacoma there were only a few cars on the road.  Now it’a a mess.  What are you doing about it, Bill?  Why don’t we just jump to abortion!?  We’re not alone in not having figured out what to do… but if I hear anymore about what to do about the viaduct…  My first time I was at EPA I learned that Americans feel really strongly about their cars.  I think you have a better chance of regulating them in the bedroom.  I spent 65% of my time on automobiles that first time.  Legislators know about that attitude.
  • Mayor of Oak Harbor: Do you see a time in the future when the effort of organizing entities around the region will manifest in a simplification of the permitting process?  There is no reason for the permitting process to be as antagonizing as it is.  We also need more than the 6 regulators that Dept. of Ecology has covering river water quality.  Rationalizing our permitting process is hard in part because of the vast complexity of the rules and it just gets worse as more people live together in higher impact ways.
  • I’ve been unimpressed with Federal funding of the killer whale recovery plan and Lubchenko’s approach to (not) solving the Columbia salmon problems.  What are prospects for Federal funding over next 3 years given the Nation’s economic difficulties and the recent surges in National leadership related to ocean conservation (Pew reports, National Ocean Policy)?  We may actually do best at intermediate levels of funding.  We got 20M last year and are looking at 50M this year, though Obama has 20M requested in budget.  So, maybe we’ll be static for a bit and optimistic that this Administration holds great promise for reinforcing promising efforts should the economic climate (and budgets related to marine conservation) improve.

One Response to State of the Sound by Bill Ruckelshaus

  1. Thanks for taking notes Scott. I thought Bill R. was very informative and interesting. I liked his description of the Nisqually restoration and the long process of engaging in conversations to get things done without the need for commissions or agencies to direct the conversations. This seems like a model for how landowners, tribes, enviros and agencies can get involve d to come up with plans that make sense to everybody. They turned to governments mainly for the money to get it done after they decided what to do.

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