Last month, the Washington Department of Ecology received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its water quality cleanup plan for Budd Inlet. The plan addresses decades-old problems associated with low dissolved oxygen that have threatened fish and wildlife in the waterway at the southern edge of Puget Sound.
The water quality plan sets a “total maximum daily load,” or TMDL, controlling how much nutrient pollution can enter Budd Inlet each day. The single most important action for improving water quality in Budd Inlet is removing the Capitol Lake dam. In addition, the plan imposes new, seasonally adjusted requirements for four wastewater treatment plants, and it relies on nutrient reductions and corrective actions from other cleanup plans to address impacts from Puget Sound and the Deschutes River.
The second-largest factor contributing to dissolved oxygen impairment in Budd Inlet is excess nutrients from other parts of Puget Sound. Low dissolved oxygen is a problem throughout the Sound and Ecology is working to reduce the human sources of nutrient pollution that contribute to this problem. The Puget Sound Nutrient General Permit for wastewater treatment plants is addressing the largest source of excess nutrients going into Puget Sound. In addition, the Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project is an ongoing effort aimed at addressing nutrient pollution in Puget Sound. These projects complement each other and will lead to improved water quality throughout the region.
An abundance of nutrients in a waterbody can cause aquatic plants and algae to grow at excessive rates. When they decompose, it uses up oxygen, robbing fish and aquatic life of the oxygen they need to breathe. Capitol Lake, the largest source of these nutrients in Budd Inlet, is shallow and stagnant during the summer months, which stimulates algal and aquatic plant growth. The water, plants, and algae from the manmade lake then flow into Budd Inlet, affecting the water quality.
Moving forward, Ecology will provide technical assistance to agencies and local governments to help with execution of the plan. Restoration of Capitol Lake to an estuary, led by the Washington Department of Enterprise Services, will take time to complete. All reductions should be in place by 2040, with some expected sooner. Short-term, Ecology will work with stakeholders and wastewater treatment facilities to help them achieve the benchmarks outlined in the plan.