Record-breaking rainfall pouring over hard surfaces in our cities and neighborhoods has added pollution to our lakes, rivers, streams and Puget Sound.

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THE health of Puget Sound is threatened, and the time to act is now.

The most challenging threat emanates from activities most of us do every day: commuting, gardening, walking our dogs and maintaining our vehicles. All of this is exacerbated by something we have a lot of around here: rainfall.

Every time it rains, runoff from streets, parking areas, sports fields or other hard surfaces flows into nearby lakes, rivers and Puget Sound, taking with it toxic chemicals and harmful bacteria.

Copper and other heavy-metal dust that settles onto road surfaces ends up in our local stormwater. Runoff includes oil, grease, antifreeze and other fluids that leak from cars onto parking lots or are spilled during routine maintenance. Fertilizers, pesticides and harmful bacteria from failing septic tanks and pet waste also wind up in stormwater.

Stormwater runoff is the No. 1 source of pollution affecting Puget Sound and one-third of Washington state’s waters. Untreated stormwater damages the health of fish, shellfish and marine mammals that depend on clean water.

Recent research shows that polluted stormwater can be lethal to salmon in a matter of hours.

With record-breaking rainfall, we have seen an increase in polluted stormwater flow over the hard surfaces in our cities and neighborhoods into lakes, rivers, streams and Puget Sound.

The time to address stormwater pollution is now, and we have the tools to make a difference.

Six years ago, concerned stakeholders who care about the health of Puget Sound and the vibrancy of the region came together. They made a request to the Legislature to create a central resource for cities and large industries that are most responsible for managing the impact of stormwater.

The Legislature responded: The Washington Stormwater Center was established in 2010 to protect our state’s waters through science-based enhancements in stormwater management.

The center conducts innovative research and provides education, technologies and expertise to municipalities and industries on mitigating the harmful effects of stormwater. It is co-managed by Washington State University and the University of Washington.

Research at the Washington Stormwater Center is helping to reduce stormwater impacts to Puget Sound by developing and testing innovative ways to mitigate the effects of stormwater. The most effective tools are known as green stormwater infrastructure. These include rain gardens, cisterns and permeable pavement that slow down, capture and clean polluted stormwater before it flows into our state’s waters.

Research is currently under way to make permeable pavement stronger and more effective through the use of recycled materials. Reinforced permeable pavement allows stormwater to percolate slowly and be cleansed before it ever enters water resources.

Cities are stepping up to address stormwater pollution. The city of Puyallup has disconnected more than 10 million gallons of stormwater from the stormwater system to be managed on-site through rain gardens. The city of Seattle currently manages 100 million gallons of polluted runoff using green stormwater infrastructure, with a goal to manage 700 million gallons by 2025.

The Washington Stormwater Center helps municipalities and industry meet their requirements for reducing pollution through education, and technical assistance for cost-effective stormwater-mitigation practices. The center also tests the most effective design bio-techniques to mitigate stormwater effects. And it helps companies commercialize new technologies to manage stormwater.

With strong partnerships between the state’s two research universities, state and federal agencies, treaty tribes, municipalities and nonprofit entities, the Washington Stormwater Center is helping urban areas address the harmful effects of stormwater.

The time is now to safeguard the health of Puget Sound. Ongoing research and outreach are essential to ensure that new solutions and infrastructure technologies are available to help cities, businesses and homeowners better manage stormwater and its impacts.

The best news is that discoveries and improved practices will find application beyond Puget Sound to all of our state, the nation and world.