On May 23 and 24, over 60 advocates descended upon Washington D.C. to demonstrate support for Puget Sound salmon and orca recovery efforts. Counties, state agencies, tribes, conservation groups, non-profits, and businesses were greeted by the co-founders of the Congressional Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, Congressmen Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer, and had the opportunity to directly meet and engage with our state’s Senators and other Representatives and federal agency officials.
Puget Sound Day on the Hill (PSDOH) began in 2015. It has grown in participation and made the Puget Sound a recognized Estuary of National Significance bringing federal funding that has supported the Puget Sound Partnership, grown capacity across the region for project development and invested millions of dollars in habitat restoration projects. This attention prompted federal agencies to form the Puget Sound Federal Task Force that is administered through a memorandum of agreement and associated action plan that aligns federal recovery work with state and local priorities.
Similar to previous years, PSDOH participants asked that Congress continue funding three primary programs that support Puget Sound recovery- the Puget Sound Geographic Program, National Estuary Program and Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. These programs fund critical projects that assist recovery efforts by prioritizing projects that prevent stormwater pollution, protect and restore priority salmon habitats, reopen shellfish beds, and reduce flooding. Priority projects are identified in the Action Agenda as Near Term Actions (NTAs) and are primarily funded through these sources. Funding can be directly awarded to project sponsors such as a Local Integrating Organization (LIO) or through a competitive process that is managed by the Strategic Initiative Leads.
In addition to these programs, attention was given to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s voluntary conservation programs for working lands which also make important contributions to Puget Sound recovery. These programs help reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters.
Specifically, the funding ask for the Fiscal Year 2019 was for, at a minimum, the following funding levels to be included in a final appropriations budget:
- Puget Sound Geographic Program (Managed by the EPA)- $28 million. This program has been essential to carrying out the large-scale, regional, federally approved recovery plan for Puget Sound (Puget Sound Action Agenda). Extensive partner engagement lies at the foundation of the recovery plan, and the actions it includes are technically reviewed, ranked, and tracked for results by the Puget Sound Partnership.
- National Estuary Program (Managed by the EPA)- $700,000. Like the lead agencies and organizations for the other 27 designated Estuaries of National Significance around the country, the Puget Sound Partnership receives critical sustaining support from the NEP funds.
- Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (Administered by NOAA)- $65 million. This is a multi-state, multi-tribe program that has provided crucial support for salmon recovery efforts throughout the Pacific coast region.
While participants were in D.C., they learned that the House Appropriations Committee recommendation sustained these funding levels. While a funding increase is ideally sought, maintaining current funding levels is a win considering earlier budget proposals did not appropriate funds for these programs. Participants described the numerous challenges of not having predictable and sustained funding sources and why a final appropriations budget is necessary. Many members of Congress are not optimistic that budget and policy priorities will align in the near future to pass one and likely will result in another continuing budget resolution.
Special thanks are given to San Juan County Councilmember and Coastal Counties Caucus Chair Jamie Stephens, Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean, Pierce County Councilmember Derek Young and Jill Wood of Island County Public Health. These four helped carry the message of County government’s role, responsibilities and investments in Puget Sound recovery and the economic vitality recovery brings to Counties that value natural resource industries in their communities.