After the recent release of the 2019 Report Card for Washington’s Infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), co-chairs of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, released the following statement:
“This report makes clear that there’s more work to be done to combat the urgent problem of polluted stormwater runoff.” Heck and Kilmer said. “Washington state and our local communities have led the charge in making investments in green stormwater infrastructure, but this report confirms that they can’t do it on their own. It’s time for Congress to take this nationwide issue seriously and devote more resources towards combating stormwater pollution.”
Stormwater runoff is the greatest source of water pollution in Puget Sound and the United States. Rainwater flowing over streets, parking lots, and rooftops picks up pollutants that flow into nearby waterways, endangering public health, costing Americans millions of dollars, increasing drinking water treatment costs, causing urban flooding, and degrading habitat for fish and wildlife. This problem is only growing as cities and metropolitan areas expand. It is a nationwide problem that requires a federal response.
In Puget Sound, polluted stormwater runoff poses a direct threat to endangered Southern Resident orcas and salmon. According to The Seattle Times, scientists widely attribute the Southern Resident orca population’s struggles to a shortage of chinook salmon. The New York Times also cites pollution from stormwater and wastewater as a reason orcas carry some of the highest levels of pollution of any marine animal.
The 2019 Washington Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) on January 16, 2019, included an evaluation for stormwater infrastructure for the first time. Washington’s stormwater infrastructure earned a “D+,” the lowest grade in the 2019 Report Card. While ASCE stated that Washington state “is a leader in innovative and sustainable methods for managing stormwater,” the report found both funding shortfalls and an aging infrastructure network to be significant near-term challenges.
One way to meet this challenge is by investing in more green infrastructure projects like permeable pavement, green roofs, and rain gardens that mimic nature and slow down the flow of stormwater before it reaches the Sound. Heck and Kilmer have introduced several bills intended to increase investments in green stormwater infrastructure.
Kilmer and Heck’s P3 Act would create a new category of tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs), which state and local governments can use to finance projects completed by private entities that serve a public benefit. Additionally, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which the President signed into law in October 2018, included a provision proposed by Heck to create a stormwater infrastructure funding task force at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit advocacy group, has created a heatmap that allows viewers to visualize the region’s sources of stormwater runoff. It is available here.