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Small Steps, but Much Work Ahead for Puget Sound Health

Bellamy Pailthorp
The 40-year-old seawall at Burien's Seahurst Park is an example of development that prevents salmon and other sensitive species from thriving in Puget Sound.

With its rocky beaches and abundant sea life, Puget Sound is at the heart of western Washington’s identity. Yet we are falling behind on the work needed to restore its health, following years of pollution from industry and a growing population.

The Puget Sound Partnership has released its latest progress report. And though there is some improvement, the challenges are still numerous. 

The Good and the Bad

The report breaks down the Sound to 21 different categories, or "vital signs." And only three of them have shown improvement, namely shellfish beds, water quality at swimming beaches, and estuary restoration. 

Some of the bad news in the report includes continuing declines in the Orca population and in Puget Sound herring stocks, and loss of habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

Still, Puget Sound Partnership's deputy director Alana Knaster says any progress is important as it shows that recovery is possible.

“We’re competing with high-priority things, and we understand that," Knaster said. "We have health care needs, we have homeless populations. So the fact that the state is willing to put some money behind Puget Sound is miraculous in and of itself.” 

And although the funding gap is beginning to shrink, there’s still nearly $400 million needed over the next two years to get everything done that the Partnership says is critical to the Sound’s recovery.

Making Improvement at Burien's Seahurst Park

To get an idea of what’s going on in Puget Sound, consider Burien's Seahurst Park, a scenic spot on the water's edge with views of the Olympics and great facilities for swimming and fishing.

But a big problem at the park is the 40-year-old seawall that spans the water's edge. Nearly a half-mile long and up to 10 feet tall in places, it has been effectively strangling the ecosystem.

"It's pretty much a dead system as far as forage fish and spawning areas go," said Steve Roemer, the project lead with Burien's Parks Department.

Six months from now, Roemer says, the seawall will be gone and the beach will be restored to a more natural state, closer to how it was before the seawall was built in 1972.

"The beach will gradually slope back to the forested hillside, so it will just look like a natural Pacific, Puget Sound beach, rather than this concrete, manmade, built-perch beach situation," Roemer said.

Still Much Room for Improvement

Credit Bellamy Pailthorp
The seawall has been removed from a small portion at the southern end of the beach at Seahurst Park, providing an example of what a healthier shoreline looks like.

Seahurst Park's will be the biggest seawall removal project on Puget Sound. And its removal is expected to bring all kinds of improvements, from better fish habitat to reduced pollution and cleaner storm water. As such, it’s an important part of the action agenda put forth by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Knaster says doing away with this kind of shoreline armoring, as they call it, is an area where we’ve been falling behind.

“It’s a tough one, because people are afraid that if they don’t have armoring, their properties will flood," Knaster said. "And this is an example of a project we can show people where if you do it right, if you build your soft armoring and do it right, you won’t have flooding impacts. It may even be better for your property.”

The Puget Sound Partnership was created six years ago to lead the cleanup of the Sound.

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