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Freshmen Congressmen Convene Puget Sound Recovery Caucus

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo

Puget Sound lost a champion when Congressman Norm Dicks retired last year. Two freshman U.S. Representatives have formed a special caucus to fill the void. 

At the Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma, Congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck have the attention of several dozen experts who’ve been working on restoring health to Puget Sound. After two hours of speeches about accomplishments and challenges, Heck has a basic question.

“If we do nothing—if we do nothing new, nothing different than what we're doing now,  what's the Puget sound going to look like in...50 years?" Heck asked the room. "What’s going to happen out here?”

He wants to take the answer back to the other Washington to build a case for more funding to fuel the work of the Puget Sound Partnership, the umbrella organization setting priorities for the Sound’s cleanup.

In the six years since its founding, Congress has awarded $130 million to its work. Another $30 million is expected next year. And those funds are often matched or leveraged by local entities. Heck and his co-chair on the new caucus are doing their best to keep those funds flowing—a job they’ve inherited from Dicks, who left congress last year.

Kilmer, who is filling Dick's big shoes in the Sixth District, says he feels it's a moral imperative to do this work, and there's also an economic argument to be made for broad support.

"There's a reason you saw not just the environmental community here, but business interests, including folks from the shellfish industry in this room," Kilmer said. "Because their ongoing prosperity, and to some degree the prosperity of the region, depends on our taking action."

The new caucus has given hope to many people who've worked on the issue for years. David Troutt of the Nisqually Tribe, who chairs the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, says the Sound needs advocates in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve got 20 treaty tribes in Puget Sound whose promises were given in the 1850s that they would be able to continue to maintain their cultures, which is based on fishing. And that's disappearing," said Troutt. "I work on the Nisqually River, and I've got a generation of fishermen who have never caught a steelhead. And that shouldn't be that way. They should always have that fish available.”

Troutt says now the hard part begins. The work from here on out will be complex; the easiest restoration projects have already been tackled. The idea is to keep it on par with iconic national clean-up efforts, such as those accomplished in the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to