Puget Sound Environmental Issues


Saving Puget Sound > Overview > Problems with Puget Sound

Puget Sound is in trouble — caused mostly by the everyday activities of the 4.4 million people who live on or around the nation’s second largest marine estuary. We are proud to live here and we want to maintain our high quality of life.

However, there are many pressures on the Sound. These include population growth, urbanization that increases the amount of hard surfaces covering the land, loss of habitat, pressures on water supplies, and water and air pollution, among others.

Since 1960, for example, the number of people living in the 12 counties bordering Puget Sound has more than doubled – from about 1.8 million to more than 4.4 million residents in 2008. In fact, 67 percent of Washington State’s entire population lives in the Puget Sound region.

Washington’s Office of Financial Management estimates that by 2020, 5.1 million people will live and work in the region – an increase of about 700, 000 people – and the equivalent of adding about three more cities the size of Tacoma in the next decade.

There are many environmental challenges facing the region today. With another 700, 000 people here in the next 10 years, what will happen to the following numbers? Today:

  • Toxic Chemicals - Ecology currently estimates that Puget Sound receives millions of pounds of toxic chemicals every year from surface runoff, groundwater discharges, and municipal and wastewater outfall pipes. These contaminates include oil and grease, PCBs, and phthalates as well as toxic heavy metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. These toxins concentrate in urban bays and enter the food chain.
  • Polluted Stormwater - A major contributor of these toxic pollutants entering the Sound is the stormwater that runs off our highways, roads, driveways, roofs, parking lots, disturbed soils, and other developed surfaces.
  • Polluted Tributaries - In 2008, there were 549 streams, rivers and lakes in the Puget Sound basin impaired by poor water quality — and in many cases, polluted stormwater runoff is a contributing factor.
  • Threatened Wildlife - The transient and permanent populations of orca whales in southern Puget Sound are considered to be among the most PCB-contaminated mammals on earth. Puget Sound harbor seals are seven times more contaminated with these persistent toxic chemicals than those living in Canada’s Strait of Georgia, which adjoins the Sound.
  • Loss of Habitat - In the past 125 years, about 70 percent of critical habitat like salt marshes, eelgrass beds and estuaries have been damaged by or completely lost to development.
  • Shoreline Development - More than 30 percent of the Sound’s 2, 500 miles of shoreline are reinforced by artificial bulkheads, seawalls...

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