Reflections on first Puget Sound Nutrient Forum

Next forum on May 30 continues conversation on finding water quality solutions


Padilla Bay

On April 25, key decision makers, scientists, and practitioners met at the first Puget Sound Nutrient Forum to form an advisory workgroup, to learn about what’s threatening Puget Sound water quality, and suggest ways to reduce human sources of nutrients.

“There were a lot of questions on the science.  What is the science saying about the problem and why do we need to do something about it? It was very encouraging to hear,” said Ecology’s Dustin Bilhimer.

Bilhimer is our manager for the Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project. The project aims to use science and collaboration to develop a plan to restore and protect Puget Sound water quality with respect to nutrient over-enrichment.

What's the problem?

Stormwater runoff containing fertilizers, human waste leaking from septic tanks, and outfalls of sewage, processed or not, creates a nutrient-rich environment in Puget Sound that feeds algae growth and chokes out important aquatic life.

As the regional population continues to grow,  impacts on the Sound intensifies. There are visible signs throughout Puget Sound. And the situation will only worsen unless steps are taken over the next decade to address growth and development in ways that won’t degrade water quality and impair the ability of marine species to survive and thrive.

There's a need for support and to improve the ecological systems that make Puget Sound more resilient to the effects of population growth and climate change.

Looking for collaborative solutions

Puget Sound and Seattle, water in foreground, buildings in background

Puget Sound and Seattle

The workgroup includes members of the wastewater treatment plant and stormwater regulated community, environmental groups, tribes as well as local, state, and federal agencies. Many members of the public also attended.

By convening the first forum, Bilhimer hoped to create a space for collaboration on options for nutrient reductions in the Sound. He was pleased there was so much interest in the first meeting and knows this is only the beginning.

“The feedback was all very good.  Folks appreciated the opportunity for input. They appreciated the method we were using to get feedback from the public, industry and tribes. I want to make sure the meetings are meaningful and we get meaningful feedback from the participants. We are using that feedback to structure the next meeting.”

Bilhimer is encouraging anyone who is interested to be a part of the next event, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 30th at the SeaTac Red Lion. He is looking for people from local areas, industry, tribes, recreational groups, conservation districts, salmon recovery groups, or anyone else.

“We need to keep educating people so they understand why nutrients are a problem what is needed to correct that problem, and to be a part of the solution. We want to bring scientists from Ecology and from other places together to help get the full picture of what is happening in the Sound. It’s going to be a long process.”

view of water from boat, with sun in sky

The Sount at sunset.

The next series of forum gatherings will include more on the science of Puget Sound, including trends, aesthetic uses, and climate change impacts, the food web, and acidification. Future meetings will also look at what we are doing about the nutrient issue, including modeling, measuring recovery, source control options, permitting, learning from similar efforts in other states, implementing solutions, affordability and funding sources.

All forums are open to the public and we will be posting materials on our website.  Those who can’t attend in person can participate via webinar.

 “Ideally at the end of this project we will have a plan, supported by stakeholders, that Ecology can implement through our regulatory authority and that achieves our water quality improvement goals and meets standards,” said Bilhimer.

For more information on the Puget Sound Nutrient Forum, visit our website.