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Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference

Governor Gregoire's Keynote Speech
March 29, 2005

Thank you, Rod, for that kind introduction. And thanks to you and the many talented men and women at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for all of the hard work you do on behalf of the environment here in the state of Washington. Your 40 years of work have resulted in many significant benefits for our state. We look forward to collaborating another 40 years and beyond to find ways to improve the Salish Sea.

I also want to thank the government of British Columbia for their partnership on both this conference and the larger environmental responsibilities of the shared basin in which we live. We have worked together successfully on key issues like orca recovery, oil spill avoidance and safeguards and transboundary toxics control. When I was the director at the state Department of Ecology, we started a strong period of cooperation with the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force. This task force was developed in response to the Nestucca and Exxon Valdez oil spills. This task force set the stage for strong cooperation on many important issues of common concern. I look forward to a continuing productive partnership on the many shared issues and challenges we have in these waters.

I also want to thank everyone in attendance for the work they do to understand the Puget Sound ecosystem and how to protect and preserve it. I am impressed with the breadth of topics being covered at this year's conference. Science is critical to our ability to take care of this place. I want to make sure we continue to have a thriving base of scientific knowledge here in Washington. And I want to make sure that information gets used by policy makers across the state. That's why I am supporting the creation of a Washington Academy of Sciences. We need an objective group that will provide clear and sound information for environmental decisions. For years, many of us have talked about the need for an Academy, and I plan to get it established. The academy will provide the science when it is needed and where it is needed for good decision-making and on-the-ground environmental protection.

Ever since I was the director at Ecology, Washington state has focused significant attention on the Puget Sound ecosystem. It is central to the overall prosperity and sustainability of the state. So I was dismayed when I reviewed the recent report released by our Puget Sound Action Team, the report you heard about this morning from Brad Ack. The report demonstrates that we have made important progress in a number of areas. Areas like cleaning up shellfish beds, improving our management of stormwater, dealing with some of the most persistent toxics in the environment such as mercury and PCBs, permanently protecting certain freshwater and marine habitats and restoring critical degraded areas. Unfortunately, our progress is being outstripped by an expansion of the problems harming the Sound.

There are simply more of us now, over a million more since I was director at Ecology. That's over 20 percent more people in our state in just over a decade. And to top it off, the region's population is projected to grow by another million over the next fifteen years, putting still more pressure on Puget Sound. More people translates into more natural habitats being turned into impervious surfaces. More solid and toxic wastes being produced. More wastewater being discharged into the Sound. More stormwater runoff carrying metals, fertilizers, pesticides and anything else that might be on the land into the waters. And more pressure on the living resources of Puget Sound and on the critical ribbon of life that is the Sound's nearshore marine environment. These pressures that result from a robust population are leading indirectly to many of the health problems in Puget Sound that Brad described earlier.

We can do much better. And we must do much better to address this problem. We must commit ourselves to leaving Puget Sound healthy and abundant with life for our children and grandchildren. I am certain that this can be accomplished. It is not too late, but we must redouble our energy and focus on this problem.

Today I am pleased to announce that I am reappointing Brad Ack to serve as my chair of the Action Team partnership. I have talked with Brad at length about the challenges in Puget Sound. I am directing him to lead our efforts to scale up the state's response to the continuing challenges in the Sound.

Under the framework of the Puget Sound Action Team partnership, the state of Washington is committed to working with the Tribes, the many local governments around the Sound, the federal agencies and our delegation, the business community and all other interested parties. We must work together to make significant strides to improve the condition of the Sound. We have honed our focus onto seven core priorities. We have a 31 million dollar plan to carry out important work over the next biennium, a plan for which I have increased funding in my budget. In each of these seven core areas, we are pursuing specific, measurable results that we will see on the ground over the next two years. For example, we plan to:

  • Improve the quality of water and increase oxygen levels for fish in Hood Canal through sewer system design, improved on-site septic systems management, stormwater management, construction of an anaerobic digester and continued salmon carcass recovery.
  • Implement plans to clean up mercury, and finish plans to control PBDE's, the flame retardant that have been found in breast milk.
  • Clean up 1,000 acres of polluted areas that grow shellfish and reopen them to harvesting.
  • Complete 240 conservation plans to help farmers keep pollution out of streams and ground water.
  • And remove 130 acres of Spartina, a non-native cordgrass that chokes out native and necessary plants for animals in the Sound.

These are just a few of the specific steps we will be taking to help the Sound. I have also included 7.5 million dollars in my budget for the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring program and other critical research and monitoring in Puget Sound. I will ask Brad and the Action Team partnership for quarterly reports on the progress they are making in the seven core areas.

We need new thinking in each of these areas and on the overall challenges we face in Puget Sound. I am going to spend some time after the legislative session looking closely into this challenge. I plan to enlist the help of many people in the region, inside and outside of government, to help us devise solutions to this challenge.

And I will need the help of this group, the scientists in the region. We need scientists like yourselves to be involved in finding solutions to these thorny problems. I ask you to commit to making your work accessible to decision-makers and to keep it as relevant as possible to the critical problems we have identified. I ask you to prioritize your efforts on the areas needing the most attention, and to help ensure that critical resources get to those needs. Please be engaged in the world of program and policy development to the extent that you can. As scientists, we will rely on you to continue to help steer us down the right path and to be there with us as we make the decisions about policy and resources to address these critical problems. I applaud you for your work and I encourage you to redouble your efforts.

We have a proud tradition of safeguarding the environment here in the Northwest. We inherited a legacy. It is up to us to enhance that legacy and to leave yet a greater and better legacy to those who will follow us. But it means that we must take certain steps now, so that our children and their children can say we did the right thing, and left them a better legacy than what we'd inherited.

I mentioned earlier that the Nestucca oil spill took place while I was director at Ecology. My youngest daughter was quite tiny at that time. I really didn't have a feel for what a bird rescue operation looked like, so I took that young child with me, not knowing how devastating it would be. From that point forward, despite the fact she didn't say the word then, she's always said "I want to be an environmental leader." She went off to college a year ago, and after one year declared her major as environmental science, dedicated to protecting our natural habitat. It's that kind of passing of the baton to the next generation, and then making sure they pass it on to the next generation, that will allow us to succeed in saving Puget Sound.

Thank you.