Updated December 17, 2015
Ecosystem Restoration in the Puget Sound
The Puget Sound (the Sound), located in the state of
Washington, is the second-largest estuary in the United
States, covering 35,500 square kilometers, and the largest
estuary in the country by volume. It has been deemed an
Estuary of National Significance by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and is noted for its species
diversity, ecosystem services, and economic benefit to the
region. For example, activities associated with the Sound
are reported to contribute nearly half of the state’s gross
domestic product. The Puget Sound watershed also contains
67% of the state’s population and is home to 49 federally
listed threatened and endangered species.
Figure 1. Puget Sound Watershed
other broad but related authorities. In the 114th Congress,
H.R. 3630, the Promoting United Government Efforts to
Save Our Sound (or Puget SOS) Act, would authorize a
restoration program for the Sound.
Federal Restoration Efforts
Federal efforts to restore the Puget Sound are largely
conducted under the authority of broad environmental laws
such as the Clean Water Act. Several federal agencies
participate in efforts to restore the Sound, including the
EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation
Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, among others. (See Table 1.)
EPA is considered by stakeholders to be the primary federal
agency responsible for conducting restoration activities in
the Sound. EPA funds activities that address priorities in the
state of Washington’s Action Agenda (see “State Efforts”
section, below) for restoring the Sound. The Corps is
working with the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife on the Puget Sound Nearshore Restoration Study,
which aims to evaluate problems and pose solutions related
to ecosystem degradation in the Sound.
Table 1. Selected Federal Puget Sound Restoration
Activities and Funding
($ in millions)
Source: Puget Sound Partnership.
Interest in restoring the Puget Sound stems from its status
as the second-largest estuary in the United States and from
the large amount of federally managed land in the Sound.
Approximately 44% of the land area within the Puget
Sound watershed is federally managed. Currently, there are
no stand-alone authorizations that holistically govern
restoration of the Sound, such as those in other areas (e.g.,
the Florida Everglades). Rather, restoration efforts largely
have been spearheaded by a state body, the Puget Sound
Partnership, with several federal agencies actively
conducting or participating in restoration projects under
Puget Sound Program.
Conducts research on threatened and
endangered plants and wildlife and implements
projects to protect them.
Collects ecosystem data on the Puget Sound
and creates models, such as one that predicts
the effect of development on estuarine habitat.
Conducts programs to protect and restore
nearshore and floodplain habitats for fish,
marine mammals, and shellfish.
Implements the Puget Sound Nearshore
The Puget Sound ecosystem is being degraded by several
factors, including air and water pollution, shoreline
modification, habitat alteration, development, and climate
change. For example, nearly 14 million pounds of toxic
chemicals enter the Sound yearly through runoff and
Source: EPA Budget documents and personal communication from
the Dept. of Interior, Corps, and NOAA.
Notes: EPA = U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; FWS = U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service; USGS = U.S. Geological Survey; NOAA =
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Corps = U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.
Coordination Among Federal Agencies
Absent the explicit authority for a federal entity to lead
restoration efforts in the Sound, a Puget Sound Federal
Ecosystem Restoration in the Puget Sound
Caucus (Caucus), consisting of 15 federal agencies, was
created by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in
2014. The Caucus’s stated objectives are to enhance federal
coordination for restoration activities, develop work plans
and strategies to coordinate efforts, and encourage federal
coordination with other nonfederal entities (such as the
Puget Sound Partnership; see “State Efforts” section,
below). The MOU is currently scheduled to sunset in 2017.
In 2011, a Puget Sound Regional Federal Agency Action
Plan was created to guide coordination of restoration
activities, but no subsequent versions of the plan have been
The state of Washington organizes restoration activities
largely through the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP), a state
agency that coordinates efforts of citizens, governmental
and nongovernmental organizations, tribes, and others. It
was created in 2007 to prioritize and sequence actions that
aim to achieve a set of restoration goals that range from
restoring and protecting habitat to improving marine and
freshwater quality. The PSP is also a National Estuary
Program (NEP), authorized 33 U.S.C. §1330. The PSP has
a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Puget Sound
authorized under the NEP and approved by the EPA.
This plan is termed the Action Agenda, and it lists ongoing
and new restoration activities aimed at achieving restoration
goals for the Puget Sound. The document also lists a set of
strategic initiatives that serve to prioritize certain near-term
restoration actions. Current strategic initiatives include
reducing pollutants from stormwater runoff; protecting and
restoring habitat; and recovering shellfish beds. The Action
Agenda is updated every two years and, according to the
PSP, is a result of the collaboration of state and federal
agencies, tribal governments, local governments, and other
stakeholders. The most recent Action Agenda (for 20142015) was published in May 2014.
Coordination Among State and Federal Efforts
There is no overarching coordinating entity that attempts to
integrate state and federal restoration activities.
Coordination between state and federal agencies occur
under various committees and teams. For example, EPA
coordinates with the PSP to meet requirements under NEP.
EPA activities are directed toward implementing the Action
Agenda. Further, the Ecosystem Coordination Board (under
the PSP) contains representatives from federal and state
agencies. The board provides recommendations to
implement the Action Agenda.
Potential Issues for Congress
In the 114th Congress, H.R. 3630 would address several key
issues related to restoration of the Puget Sound. The bill
raises several questions for Congress related to the Sound,
which are discussed below.
Coordination of Restoration Efforts
Among other things, federal legislation could direct
coordination efforts among federal agencies and between
federal and state agencies conducting restoration in the
Sound. For example, H.R. 3630 proposes to enhance the
Puget Sound Federal Caucus to coordinate recovery efforts
in the Sound and to develop a federal action plan for
restoration. Alternatively, a permanent coordinating entity
could be authorized in law to take the form of other
coordinating entities involved in large-scale ecosystem
Congress also might consider the authorization of efforts to
ensure coordination among state and federal agencies. For
example, a comprehensive restoration plan for federal
agencies might also incorporate state actions and might
serve as a focal point for measuring the progress of
restoration efforts. However, some may oppose any effort
to create a new plan with the potential to duplicate and/or
compete with the Action Agenda. Under H.R. 3630,
coordination would occur through the guidance of a Puget
Sound Federal Task Force and a newly created EPA Puget
Sound restoration program office. The bill also would direct
federal restoration activities to be consistent with the Action
Agenda as much as possible under law.
Progress of Restoration Efforts
Since the PSP was initiated in 2007, several of the goals set
by the Action Agenda have not been met and progress
appears to be slow. In 2015, the PSP reported that 10 of 37
indicators are showing progress and that 15 indicators are
either not changing, have mixed results, or are getting
worse. Twelve indicators do not have enough data available
to make a determination. Little or no progress under some
indicators was attributed to a lag in getting results from the
time restoration activities were completed.
Whether an overall lack of restoration progress could be
improved through additional federal involvement (and, if
so, to what extent) is another potential question for
Congress. Aside from governance and coordination under
existing authorities, some contend that enhanced
monitoring and reporting would improve understanding of
the ecosystem. (There is no coordinated monitoring for
federal efforts in the Sound.) H.R. 3630 would address this
issue by, among other things, authorizing the director of the
Puget Sound program office to procure research and
monitoring to fulfill the “objectives and priorities of the
Ocean Acidification and Climate Change
Ocean acidification and climate change are two long-term
factors that could affect Puget Sound restoration. The
Action Agenda parallels the state climate change response
strategy to address climate change issues. Federal actions
might consider climate change and ocean acidification on a
project-by-project basis or holistically over all activities.
H.R. 3630 would direct federal agencies to consider actions
that would promote resilience to climate change and ocean
acidification effects, but the bill does not provide further
direction on this issue.
Pervaze A. Sheikh, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Ecosystem Restoration in the Puget Sound
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