Puget Sound is in trouble.
This iconic estuary, with habitats not found anywhere else in the world, is in danger of permanent ecological damage, and one of the biggest culprits is cars.
Call it death by a million drips. Drips of oil, coolant and other toxins flow into our waterways carried by rain. One inch of rain falling on a one-acre parking lot creates 27,000 gallons of runoff, and this runoff accounts for 30 percent of Puget Sound’s pollution.
Seven million quarts of motor oil make it into Puget Sound and the region’s streams, rivers and lakes every year.
The good news is that motorists in Pierce County now have a chance to reduce some of this stormwater pollution thanks to a public awareness campaign that calls itself Puget Sound Starts Here.
This coalition of 750 organizations is sending out a strong and unified message: Don’t drip and drive.
As part of the program, participating automotive repair shops throughout Pierce County are conducting free visual leak inspections. Drivers receive a coupon for 10 percent off service (up to $50) if a leaky problem is found.
Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood is also pitching in by offering free workshops on leak repairs and vehicle maintenance. Classes are taught by automotive program instructors, and participants will have an opportunity to have their vehicles inspected for leaks.
The “Don’t Drip and Drive” program isn’t just sound practice for the life of your car or truck; it’s good stewardship.
The effects of these chemical leaks are discernible; they’re seen in the decline of southern resident orcas, the salmon that die before spawning, the thousands of acres of shellfish beaches forced to close because of pollutants from unmanaged stormwater.
Washington’s Office of Financial Management estimates that by 2020, 5.1 million people will live and work around the Puget Sound. A larger population equates to more traffic, more roads and more parking lots, and it’s these paved surfaces that are a detriment to surrounding waters.
But oil, grease, and coolants, aren’t the only toxins getting into the Sound. From Advil to Zoloft, our surrounding water is a pharmaceutical cocktail reaching toxic levels.
According to NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Puget Sound wastewater has the highest level of antibiotics, fungicides, and female reproductive hormones in the nation. Regular household items like old flea collars, insect repellent, drain cleaners, pesticides and polishes also make their way into the delicate ecosystem.
It’s worth mentioning that in many ways our region is leading the way in restoring the ecosystem balance of these ancient waters — waters made by melting glaciers 10,000 years ago.
In 2015, Metro Parks Tacoma joined forces with the city of Tacoma and built a 5,500 square-foot stormwater treatment facility located at Point Defiance Park. This innovative system is the largest of its kind in the world with six cascading pools that help channel runoff from streets and properties as far south as North 30th Street.
In October of 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency also pledged more than $600 million for habitat restoration, stormwater runoff and shellfish sustainability.
But money alone can’t fix this problem. Citizens have to do their part, and it starts with raising awareness of the environmental impact of everyday actions.
For thousands of years, humans living along the shores of Puget Sound have depended on it for food and clean water. Today, in our trade-dependent economy, Puget Sound is our lifeblood.
Any act on our part to protect this environmental treasure is far from a drop in the ocean.