Storms impact more just people — Puget Sound suffers, too

You don’t have to look too hard to see al the drift and grime in Gig Harbor Bay — eventually all the toxic waste from human activity makes it into Puget Sound.

Storms have been hitting the South Puget Sound hard over the past few months. We have gotten used to the inclement weather, keeping a rain jacket close at all times and putting on tough faces when rain threatens to cancel plans. We have learned to shrug our shoulders when our glasses get splattered with dewy drops and when we enter the office looking as if we had just jumped in a lake.

If it seems like there was an unusually large amount of rain this year, it’s because there was: Washington had its wettest winter ever recorded. After a long, hot summer of drought, Washingtonians should be relishing in this rain. However, the recent rainfall has a darker side: stormwater runoff.

As the charcoal clouds open up and release large drops of heavy rainfall, the water nourishes nearby forests, wetlands and grasslands, seeping down into the permeable soil and contributing to groundwater accumulation. When rain hits impermeable surfaces such as concrete roads, driveways and parking lots, the water cannot be absorbed.

As raindrops race down concrete hills, gravity guides them into stormdrains that lead them to Puget Sound. Along the way, the rain picks up the detritus from everyday life: oil from car leaks, dirt, soap, paint residue, litter, toxic chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides, and bacteria from dog waste.

This stormwater runoff finds its way into Puget Sound, polluting the water and harming the creatures — including salmon and orcas — that depend upon it. All those chemicals end up in the Sound.

But hope is not completely lost. Green infrastructure such as rain gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement all help recharge groundwater and mitigate pollution of Puget Sound. Planting trees in urban spaces helps soak up water and also beautifies neighborhoods and cleans the air.

On an individual level, you can keep Puget Sound clean a number of different ways.

  • Use brick, gravel or other permeable materials for walkways and driveways
  • Replace harmful fertilizers with natural alternatives like vinegar
  • Install a rain garden or rain barrel of your own
  • Wash your car on your lawn
  • Properly dispose of animal waste
  • Prevent any oil leaks by maintaining your car
  • Let friends and family members know what they can do to keep the Sound clean

These measures may seem small but through knowledge and awareness, citizens can make a huge impact on this treasured body of water. Puget Sound supports so much life and industry, and we have the power to protect and keep it healthy for years to come.