Some of the ecosystems that are critical to creating a healthy Puget Sound are improving, like many of our rivers, floodplains, and estuaries upon which fish and shellfish depend.
IT’S easy to be enchanted by Puget Sound’s glistening waters, grand mountain vistas, and diverse communities. It’s these elements and more that draw us in and keep us here. In fact, 84 percent of Puget Sound residents say they frequently feel reduced stress levels and are inspired by our region’s natural environment. This is an easy place to love.
But there’s another reality, where a celebrated orca baby boom still leaves the resident population struggling, and the number of salmon returning to many of our rivers is far too few to support tribal, commercial and recreational fishing. Where the warmest year on record brings calls for water conservation, threatens our shellfish fisheries with toxic algal blooms, challenges salmon with warm rivers and low streamflow, and primes dry forests for big fires that rage dangerously close.
This year has been a glimpse into our future. And the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group’s recent report Climate Change in Puget Sound fills in the details, providing the most detailed picture yet of what we can expect in a warming world.
The take-home messages are becoming familiar: increasing risk of floods, fires and summer water shortages. More, and more toxic, algal blooms. A warming climate decreases air quality, increases heat-related health effects, and opens new pathways by which diseases are spread. It taxes our already expensive infrastructure investments — like wastewater treatment facilities and our transportation and energy systems. It could fundamentally alter this place that sustains and inspires us.
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While our global leaders work on international solutions, we must take a hard look at our policy decisions here at home. Although reducing CO2 emissions is critical, we must also enable strategies that allow Puget Sound to remain resilient in the face of changes that will play out on our local land, sea and cityscapes.
The good news is we have the knowledge to guide our path to resilience. And we’re making headway.
The Puget Sound Partnership’s 2015 State of the Sound shows that where we focus our investments, we see improvements in habitat and water quality measures. The partnership’s action agenda and the work of our climate impacts group provide actionable, locally specific information to use to identify, prioritize and manage emerging and expected climate risks.
We’re already seeing communities use this information to build resilience to a changing environment.
Some of the ecosystems that are critical to creating a healthy Puget Sound are improving, like many of our rivers, floodplains and estuaries upon which fish and shellfish depend. A polluted site is being redeveloped into a vibrant community hub in Bellingham Bay, with plans for marine, commercial and residential uses to thrive even as Puget Sound water levels rise. A new $65 million water treatment plant for the city of Anacortes was built to be resilient to the flooding increases expected during its lifetime.
The reality is that there are uncertainties in our future. Thriving as that reality unfolds requires taking a clear-eyed look at the risks we know something about, and seeking opportunities to manage them.
It requires making the most of what we know, by linking knowledge with action, and building resilience to cope with the uncertain changes. Making investments now — in clean water, flood protection and habitat for wildlife and people — is money in the bank for coping with future change.
The choice is ours. We can choose to accelerate our efforts to strengthen our communities, economy and environment to stand up to, recover from and thrive in the midst of ongoing change. It’s a win-win. By investing in a healthy and resilient Puget Sound, we’re investing in our own health and well-being.