Rep. Mary Dye: Improving Puget Sound water quality is the best way to save Washington’s salmon

There are some hard-core Western Washington groups that want you to believe that if we breach Snake River dams, it will boost our state’s salmon population and we can save the Southern Resident Orcas from extinction. It’s the old strategy of if you repeat something long enough, people will finally believe you. Even though dam removal would be devastating to our state’s power grid, agriculture, and vital river navigation of wheat and other products.

Here’s what they won’t tell you. Puget Sound is polluted. Combined with the warm, polluted stormwater from Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett flowing into streams that feed the Sound, it’s killing our salmon population. They can remove the dams and destroy Eastern Washington’s economy in doing so, but salmon are not going to be saved until we address Western Washington water pollution.

One of the most serious salmon threats is “urban heat island effect.” Urban heat islands occur when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. Seattle can be up to 17 degrees hotter in the summer than rural areas. This heats up storm waters that empty into Puget Sound tributaries, increasing water temperatures and harming salmon habitat.

Another serious risk to salmon is untreated storm water and raw sewage spilled regularly into Puget Sound from wastewater treatment plants that are inadequate to handle the flow volumes. Dumping human waste into the Sound causes a chain reaction that exhausts the water’s supply of oxygen, leaving marine creatures essentially breathless.

As the ranking member of the House Environment and Energy Committee, creating a clean, cool water environment in our state is one of my top priorities of this session. My four-point plan will help to get us there.

  • Improve Puget Sound water quality – House Bill 1365 – Would uses Climate Commitment Act dollars to upgrade our sewage treatment facilities along Puget Sound.
  • Create salmon-safe communities – House Bill 1381 – This bill would ask cities to innovate to reduce urban heat, including: green roofs where vegetables can grow, vertical gardening, reflective roof technology, changes in reflectivity on buildings to reduce heat absorption, increases in permeable surfaces to allow natural infiltration of stormwater, and creating more parklike settings with shade trees and vegetation. As salmon populations begin to recover, cities will be awarded the designation of a “salmon-safe community.”
  • Authorize water quality trading – House Bill 1166 – This is a water-based cap and trade program. Revenues from this program would be used to fund habitat restoration projects across watersheds, including planting vegetation and trees that provide shade. This program has been very effective south of Portland.
  • Enact the ORCA Plan – House Bill 1190 – This is a remake of my ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Climate Adaptation) bill that would use Climate Commitment Act dollars to address water quality issues, forest health, drought, and flood issues.

Make no mistake. If we ignore water quality in the Puget Sound, and accept the false narrative of these Western Washington groups, we’ll have no dams, an intermittent and unreliable power grid that relies on 700,000 acres of wind and solar farms in Eastern Washington, no river navigation to move wheat, less irrigation water for agriculture, AND no salmon and no orcas. They need to look in their own backyard for real solutions that would save salmon before coming to ours. And that’s why’ its essential to pass these water quality bills. The bottom line: We can save the dams and salmon and orcas, and our Eastern Washington economy. But first, we need to clean up Puget Sound!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, serves the 9th Legislative District and is the ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee.

State Representative Mary Dye, 9th Legislative District
432 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7942 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000