RENTON – Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced a nearly $90 million package of aquatic habitat protections and improvements Monday, to be carried out by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
In a news release, Franz stated that Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas have declined to a 30-year low of just 74. According to Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, the decline in orca populations is primarily driven by vessel traffic and noise, toxic contaminants in the water, poor nearshore habitat, and declining prey, particularly Chinook salmon.
Commissioner Franz’s requested funding package will support the work of the task force by restoring development-damaged aquatic lands and access to rivers cut off by barriers to fish passage.
“We haven’t had a baby orca survive in three years. Our salmon runs continue to decline. The struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in restoring our waterways and landscapes,” said Commissioner Franz. “This funding package will allow DNR to protect and restore salmon habitat and water quality, helping secure a future for our orcas, our salmon, and our way of life.”
Commissioner Franz submitted her $90 million funding request, consisting of $22 million in operating budget requests and $68 million in one-time capital budget projects last month, in advance of the 2019 legislative session.
The proposal supports aquatic and salmon habitat by:
·Committing to restoring aquatic environments: $7 million from the state operating budget to provide permanent funding to protect the aquatic food web by removing legacy toxics, restoring eelgrass beds, and removing marine debris.
·Developing adaptations for ocean acidification: DNR scientists are leading efforts to assess ocean acidification and geoduck research amid climate change. The $1.5 million request will advance this research, including critical links between zooplankton and salmon, while helping shellfish growers and others dependent on healthy aquatic environments adapt to changing marine conditions.
·Investing in urban forests to lessen stormwater runoff: Stormwater runoff is the number-one source of pollution in Washington’s waters. A $2.1 million investment in urban forest canopies will decrease toxic stormwater runoff into salmon and orca habitat.
·Removing large, hazardous derelict vessels: $5 million in capital funds to remove vessels that endanger habitat and navigation channels but are too costly for DNR’s derelict vessel budget.
·Funding Puget SoundCorps: $8 million capital budget allotment to expand the efficient, effective work Puget Sound Corps crews do restoring salmon habitat.
·Protecting vital conservation lands: $1.5 million to fund maintenance efforts on DNR’s natural areas – places that preserve Washington’s most distinct and threatened environments and provide natural resilience to climate change.