OLYMPIA – Pollution pours into Puget Sound every time it rains.
There’s oil and grease from parking lots, driveways and roads; fertilizers and pesticides from lawns; heavy metals from the wear and tear on brakes and tires; animal waste.
Stormwater runoff is considered the No. 1 pollution problem for the urban Puget Sound region.
“In the face of population growth and development, stormwater may be the biggest challenge we face in the effort to clean up and protect Puget Sound,” state Department of Ecology director Jay Manning told the Olympian newspaper.
The state Department of Ecology has estimated that stormwater runoff sends more contamination into Puget Sound than any other pollution pathway. It delivers 22,580 metric tons of oil and petroleum each year – more than 20 times the volume of direct oil spills entering the sound.
Toxic stormwater is a problem for about one-third of the state’s water bodies that don’t meet federal Clean Water Act standards. Marine sediments near stormwater discharge pipes in urban bays are among the most polluted in Puget Sound.
Severe storms, like the one that walloped Western Washington in early December, create stormwater runoff that overwhelms regional sewage treatment plants, sending untreated human waste into Puget Sound.
Stormwater erodes stream banks, especially after heavy rains. It dumps sediment in the water and scours gravel from streams, hampering efforts to recover salmon and the 40 other imperiled species in Puget Sound.
As heavy metals and other pollutants build up in salmon, they have trouble reproducing or fending off predators. The accumulating toxins place humans at risk when they eat contaminated fish and shellfish.
“We need to address stormwater pollution, if we are to have any hope of restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem,” said Bruce Wishart, policy director for the conservation group People for Puget Sound.