Non-point pollution is our problem, and that's the point | Editorial

Scientists call it “non-point pollution,” meaning it emanates from sources that aren’t specific or readily identifiable. 

Oil leaks from automobiles and chemical treatments on lawns are two good examples, swept as they are by rainwater through ditches and storm drains and into the waters of Puget Sound. Another example: the septic systems of shoreline homes, which over time send untreated waste oozing out to contaminate our waterways. 

Non-point pollution is, if anything, more insidious than the factory smokestack or toxin-spewing drainpipe; you can’t just douse the fire or turn off the spigot to make it go away. Plus, no one wants to take ownership of the problem, even though we all contribute to it in one way or another.

But we should do what we can; Friday Harbor is replacing an aging, leaky shoreline sewer pipe with a new upland one, and sources of detergents that have been getting into our harbor are being identified and corrected.

State and local officials are hailing the formal adoption of an action plan by the Puget Sound Partnership to protect and restore the environment of our region’s signature waterway. The recently created state agency’s four-point plan: to protect our last remaining intact shoreline areas; to restore damaged and polluted sites to environmental health; to stop water pollution at its source (including shoreline septic seepage); and to coordinate the protection, restoration and cleanup efforts regionwide.

With the formal adoption of the action plan (more details of which are available online at www.psp.wa.gov), the state will engage local and tribal authorities — and yes, we citizens — in this cause. You’ll be reading a lot about the program in the coming months. 

Why should you care?

Our island communities were shaken last month by reports that the region’s orca populations may be literally starved for food — fears piqued by the abrupt disappearance of seven whales from the pod. Their woes trace directly to declining salmon populations, which owe in turn to the pollution-induced problems throughout the Puget Sound ecosystem. 

Is it any wonder? Scientists estimate that 52 million pounds of toxins enter Puget Sound waterways each year — 150,000 pounds per day. As PSP Executive Director David Dicks points out, that’s the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every two years. And with so much of our economy and quality of life tied to Puget Sound’s health, we all live downstream — true for none more so than the orcas.

We are the generation that gets to decide the fate of our signature waterway and its marine inhabitants. That won’t come without awareness, effort and sacrifice. So we can see the extension of sewer lines to more Eastsound neighborhoods as a threat, an imposition, a financial burden on our households. Or we can see it as an opportunity to do our small part in a greater regional effort to save our waters — below ground on Orcas Island, and in the broader Puget Sound. 

Non-point pollution is all our problem — and that’s the point.

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