Lowry signs legislation to continue Puget Sound cleanup efforts

OLYMPIA - Cleanup efforts on Puget Sound will continue beyond the scheduled June 30 termination of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority under legislation signed into law today by Gov. Mike Lowry.

At an afternoon ceremony at the Old Ellison Oyster Plant near Olympia, Lowry said House Bill 2875 will provide a new structure for ongoing cleanup efforts while preserving the very important work of the authority.

"The shellfish harvesting industry is a perfect example of why we need a healthy Puget Sound," Lowry said, "and yet another illustration of the link between good environmental policy and good economic policy. Both are critical to our state's exceptional quality of life."

HB 2875 will create a 13-member Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team including 10 agency directors, a chairperson, and one representative each from the cities and counties that will assume the powers and duties of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority on June 30.

In addition to implementing and coordinating the work of the Puget Sound Plan, the new panel will coordinate permitting requirements between agencies for watershed plans, resolve conflicts between agencies, and draft a work plan and budget proposal.

The new law also requires performance measures that can be used by the Governor and the legislature to evaluate cleanup efforts; requires local governments to implement local cleanup plans (subject to available funding); requires public participation in the development of a work plan; and continues the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program.

In addition, HB 2875 preserves the authority's current staffing and budget levels over the next fiscal year and also appropriates $1 million to the state Department of Ecology for grants to local governments for on-site sewage system projects. Priority for the grants will be given to areas that have formed shellfish protection districts, have threatened shellfish beds, and have a significant number of low-income households.

During today's ceremony, Lowry credited the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority with a decade of progress toward a healthier sound. Created by the 1985 Legislature, the authority was charged with developing a plan to clean up and protect Puget Sound, and since then, Lowry said, has taken the lead on a number of significant projects.

The governor said Olympia's Henderson Inlet is a prime example of the group's success. In 1983, poor water quality at the inlet had threatened the shellfish harvesting industry making that area among the first chosen for action several years later when the new plan took effect.

Over a two-year period, the authority helped guide a 19-member committee of local residents, tribal members and government officials in drafting a comprehensive watershed action plan. Other cleanup efforts at the inlet included stormwater treatment, septic system repair and development of healthier farm practices. By early 1995, the decline in water quality had stopped.

"Everyone in our state who values a clean, healthy environment can take pride in the accomplishments of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority," Lowry said. "This new law will ensure that those efforts continue."

The new action team will work under the direction of a chairperson who will be appointed by the governor by June 1, 1996. The chairperson also will head the new 7-member Puget Sound Council, an advisory body that will include representatives of business, the environmental community, agriculture and shellfish industries, the cities, counties, and tribes along with two additional non-voting members to be named by the House and Senate. The governor's office will administer both the action team and the council.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.