(By Sharon Selvaggio, Healthy Wildlife and Water Program Director)
"My smeller’s so keen that it just can’t be beat.”
One of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories is The Big Brag. A rabbit brags he can hear a fly cough 90 miles away, prompting a bear to best him by claiming he smells a stale egg 600 miles away. A worm puts the argument to rest by popping out of the ground and boasting he can see all the way around the world. I remember puzzling over it when young. How could one see all around the world exactly?
Now, at age 56, I am reminded of the story when I read about salmon homing. The salmon’s sense of smell is legendary. According to some it is even stronger than a bear or a bloodhound. We know that the salmon’s sense of smell – which they need for homing to their natal streams – can be affected by certain chemicals, including pesticides, in the parts per billion.
So is the lack of clean water in places like Puget Sound a major threat? I’ve been studying the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan and the authors seem to think so. The Plan identifies action on water quality/pollution as a “top 10” item necessary for bringing salmon back.
Currently, Puget Sound Chinook salmon are at only 10% of historic numbers; in some watersheds populations are far less. Over 137 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles depend on salmon for one or more stages of their lives. Recovering salmon has an ecosystem-level consequence.
The Recovery Plan contains few specifics on pesticides. However, it does remind readers that polluted runoff is considered the leading cause of water pollution in Washington state. This is different than industrial facility waste. For example, pesticides and fertilizers used for home lawn care can wash into surface waters, especially after rain.
The Recovery Plan also emphasizes that improving water quality is not a lofty dream but a necessary and attainable goal. Formal mechanisms exist to clean up water, placing the responsibility for clean water squarely on municipalities and the State.
Municipalities in urbanized regions are required to obtain permits and show implementation of a stormwater management program to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the “maximum extent practicable.” This includes, among other items, addressing public education and outreach, illicit discharge and pollution prevention. The State designates surface water quality standards to set limits on water pollution.
An important body to keep an eye on is the Washington State Nonpoint Source Workgroup. Washington State's Department of Ecology also develops and coordinates implementation of the State’s Nonpoint Pollution Management Plan, which highlights nonpoint issues needing attention in the state.
We’ll dive into these topics more in the future, so stay tuned.