Puget Sound beachToxic chemicals plaguing Puget Sound’s fish and orcas, polluted rainwater streaming into the sea, overfishing, damaged shorelines—all of this was my bread-and-butter for news stories during my recently-ended decade at the Seattle P-I.

So I was really excited this week to tune into PBS to watch Frontline, a standout of investigative journalism, as it delved into what’s ailing Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay in a special called “Poisoned Waters.” All right! Nationally acclaimed, heavy hitting reporting brought to bear on our own Sound.

I eagerly watched the two hour show and was surprised to learn … nothing. But upon a little reflection, I realized that my reaction made sense. We know what the problems are with Puget Sound, as my colleague Robert McClure and I spelled out in P-I investigations titled “Our Troubled Sound” and “The Sound of Broken Promises.”

There’s the legacy of industrial pollution in the mud and water; we keep adding more toxic chemicals through storm-water runoff and sewage treatment that can’t remove all of today’s pharmaceuticals, beauty products and other contaminants; and construction in shoreline areas damages vital habitat.

What’s more, we know how to fix these problems. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Puget Sound Partnership is working on a strategy for returning our estuary to health. But many of the concepts are pretty simple and well understood:

  • Limit the sprawl that adds roads and parking lots and removes trees that help control runoff from heavy rains
  • Do low-impact development that reduces storm water and helps it soak into the ground
  • Strictly limit shoreline construction of docks, piers, and beaches “hardened” with boulders and other barriers
  • Reduce the use of dangerous chemicals such as flame retardants and ingredients found in plastics and fragrances that mimic human hormone function

The question now is whether we have the political and community will to take these steps. As King County Executive Ron Sims asked in the Frontline show while surveying a protected swath of forest: “Why sacrifice clean water for growth?”

Seattle’s Elliott Bay photo courtesy of Flickr user Wonderlane under the Creative Commons license.