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By The Skanner News
Published: 12 July 2006

OLYMPIA — Don't be fooled by the breathtaking sunsets, top-notch boating and bountiful hauls of shellfish — Puget Sound's health is in danger, members of a special task force say.
In a report to Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Partnership for Puget Sound warned on Monday that many people living in the region have a rosy outlook on the sound, despite dire warnings about dwindling aquatic life and increasing urban pollution.
Such pressures have been widely documented, but the group was surprised that two-thirds of people contacted for a survey rated the sound's health as ``good.''
If leaders aren't able to persuade and inspire the public to get involved in improving the sound's health, ``I'm not sure we can win,'' said Brad Ack, director of Gregoire's Puget Sound Action Team.
``There's this disconnect between what the actual state of the sound is and what people's impression is, because it looks beautiful — the water sparkles, the mountains glisten,'' he said.
``If we could see under the water and also be able to compare it to what it used to look like 30 years ago, 50 years ago, it would be a more sobering picture,'' Ack added.
The partnership was created in late 2005 by Gregoire, who has ordered the group of business, education, environment and government leaders to come up with a plan for solving Puget Sound's biggest problems by 2020.
Federal officials recently named the region's inland waters as critical habitat for the endangered killer whale population. Several Puget Sound salmon runs also are listed as threatened or endangered, and some species of sea birds are facing serious decline.
Decades of human activity have pushed the declines, with old industrial sediment and newer threats from urban runoff and sewage threatening marine habitat, officials say.
The Puget Sound basin also is booming. Nearly 4 million people already call the region home, and the population is expected to grow by 1.4 million by 2020. Add climate change to the mix, and the situation becomes even more critical.
Of course, big changes will take a lot of money, and the partnership said government isn't contributing nearly enough to the cause.
State government spends about $570 million on Puget Sound every two years, officials said, with much of the money going toward public works projects such as wastewater treatment.
A much smaller slice is dedicated to ``direct protection and restoration'' such as enforcing regulations, educating the public and restoring habitat, the report said.
Moreover, existing efforts such as regional salmon recovery plans are shortchanged. ``We currently are spending less than half of the estimated amount needed to recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon in the next 50 years,'' the report said.
Firmer spending requests will emerge in the fall, when another report will coincide with Gregoire's efforts to finalize a budget for the next two-year state spending cycle.
While they praised current work aimed at protecting separate areas of Puget Sound, the report's authors said Puget Sound leaders must find a way to manage the effort that ties those efforts together with perspective on the entire ecosystem.

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