In the era of the Scott Pruitt–led Environmental Protection Agency, it’s every natural resource for itself. (Hide your rivers! Hide your wildlife!) As the EPA director rolls back 22 regulations that safeguard such things as, oh, breathable air and drinking water, Puget Soundkeeper remains our region’s ever-vigilant waterway watchdog.
Since 1984, the organization’s logged over 170 cases against Clean Water Act violators and those who threaten Puget Sound and surrounding waters. And it’s won nearly every case. Among the many victories: forcing the BNSF Railway to pay for decades-long contamination from coal-filled train cars; holding the state accountable for water quality standards; and setting a national precedent for industrial stormwater treatment, which is the number-one source of toxic pollution in Puget Sound.
But the org doesn’t overlook the smaller transgressions. That’s why approximately 2,300 volunteers take to the water each year; armed with hand nets and bags, they pluck plastic and dubious debris as they patrol Elliott Bay, Lake Union, and the Duwamish River for discolored sheens or foamy, toxic residue.
Meanwhile, Puget Soundkeeper filed a lawsuit, along with the Sierra Club, against the EPA in February 2015 to contest the federal department’s attempt to reduce the number of waterways protected under the Clean Water Act. Beyond Washington’s waters, an estimated 60 percent of the nation’s streams and wetlands would be at risk. “When agencies fail to act,” says executive director Chris Wilke, “we step in.”