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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Orca Population Declines As Puget Sound ‘Remains In Crisis’

Citing worsening marine water quality and the declining orca population, Chinook salmon and herring, the state agency Puget Sound Partnership referred to the Puget Sound as a patient in “critical condition.”

“Puget Sound remains in crisis,” says a report released last week by the agency. “It is increasingly likely that we will not reach our legislatively established targets by 2020.”

The agency tracks 21 indicators for overall health of the Sound, including toxic levels in fish, orca and herring population numbers, beach closures and recreational fishing harvest. The agency has set goals to reach by 2020 within each of those categories – including number of orca whales, specific levels of toxics in fish and acres of shellfish beds clean enough to be reopened.

Of those 21 indicators, only three have improved to the point where they’re on track for the 2020 targets.

There have been several habitat improvements: Thousands of acres of shellfish beds were reopened to harvest between 2007 and 2013. Sixteen major river deltas had over 2,250 acres of estuary work completed between 2006 and 2012, and more swimming beaches met water quality standards in 2012.

But the report says that despite localized restoration efforts, Puget Sound is losing more habitat to development than it gains through restoration.

Alana Knaster, deputy director of the Puget Sound Partnership, said she remains optimistic.

“It’s not a problem where you turn on a switch, turn off a switch and you solve it,” Knaster said. “You can do a restoration project, and it can be lovely, but you’re reversing 50 to 100 years of degradation. And it doesn’t come back the next week.”

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

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