Bill Derry of Washington State issues call for action in Puget Sound


Note to Reader:

The following article is reprinted from the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, and was written by Katie Zemtseff, Journal Staff Reporter. The article describes a 10-point plan of action presented by Bill Derry, Washington State watershed champion and innovator, 

Convening for Action in Puget Sound

October 25, 2007: Stormwater specialist Bill Derry has been working on Pacific Northwest rainwater and stormwater issues for 25 years, and he says some serious changes need to be made, and made quickly, in the way we live around here.

Bill derry (200p)Derry spoke at a recent forum about stormwater sponsored by his employer, CH2M Hill, People for Puget Sound, and the Washington Foundation for the Environment. He said he has worked with almost every city and county in Western Washington, developing stormwater plans and helping to restore habitat.

Bill Derry was one of the first stormwater utility managers in Washington State. He believed so strongly in the need for scientifically-defensible research that he convinced his fellow utility managers to organize and fund a research centre at the University of Washington. Bill was a Founding Director of the Center for Urban Water Resources Management (which is now part of the Center for Water and Watershed Studies).

Derry’s call for action followed close on the heels of a joint British Columbia-Washington State conference that was held in Seattle at the beginning of October. The conference included a panel session that compared cross-border experiences and directions after a decade. The session posed a number of questions, including: What lessons can Washington State and British Columbia learn from each other as they strive to minimize the impacts of rainwater/stormwater runoff?

To learn more about what was concluded, click on this link to Rainwater Management on Diverging Paths in British Columbia and Washington State?

Shared Strategy for Puget Sound

A year ago, Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, a coalition of citizen groups and local, state, tribal and federal representatives, released a plan that will be used to determine how to clean up Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership, a government agency charged with protecting the health of Puget Sound, will use the plan to create its 2020 Action Agenda.

But Bill  Derry said it has been widely recognized that the plan didn’t go far enough for stormwater. Stormwater is a very complicated problem, but the solution is simple, he joked: “Put the forest back.”

In nature, soil soaks up rainwater, filters out pollutants and slows its entry into bodies of water. In cities, soil has been covered with impermeable surfaces like roads and buildings.

When rainwater can’t soak into the ground, it flows along streets picking up harmful chemicals, and floods local creeks and water systems without being treated by natural systems. Rainwater affects the health of Puget Sound, local species and natural ecosystems.

Derry came up with a list of 10 ways to fix the region’s rainwater/stormwater problems. He said he hopes his list will make people “uncomfortable” because they will require major lifestyle changes.

He said the problem is “all of us, in everything we do… There isn’t an easy answer. We can’t just designate some facility to take care of this for us.”

Here is Bill Derry’s list:

1. Be realistic about population growth:

More people in the region means more homes, development and traffic. Current estimates predict another one million people in the region by 2020, the same time that Puget Sound is supposed to be restored. Derry said, “We can’t continue to just dump people into the region and think we can protect, let alone restore the region.”

2. Manage land use better:

There should be no expansion of the urban growth boundaries, Derry said. Watersheds are generally the best habitat and Derry said growth needs to be channeled away from them. “We need to have a serious conversation on how far we are going to let this go.”² On the neighborhood level, he said, we need to create sustainable spaces with 11 units per acre, the number needed to support transit, and limit home lots to 3,500 square feet. “These radical concepts,” he said, “are the way it used to be.” We need to get back to a walkable and transit-orientated society, he said, where all residences are within five minutes of transit and shops. The Green Lake neighborhood in Seattle is a good example. Lots are small and the streets are walkable.

3. Protect habitat:

There should be no net loss of forest cover, Derry said. “We should have a requirement for agencies to preserve the forest, not just slow down development.” One successful example is Olympia. Olympia developed a rating system that discourages development around its most important watersheds, and encourages it around urban watersheds like the Capitol Lake area. Derry suggested the state require counties to restore 2 percent of previously forested areas and 2 percent of riparian buffers per year. A better system to transfer development rights would help meet this goal.

4. Make development rules regional:

Derry said consistent regulations are needed regionally on issues such as zero discharges, retaining forest cover, allowing narrow residential streets, boosting urban density and requiring stormwater treatment.

5. Retrofit developed areas for treatment and flow control:

Many existing buildings were built before stormwater was considered a problem, but he said we need to start retrofitting those buildings soon. “If we only did 5 percent a year, it would take us 20 years.” The goal of the Puget Sound Partnership is to have Puget Sound clean by 2020, but Derry said that goal will be hard to accomplish with existing development dumping untreated stormwater into the system.

6. Ban toxins in construction materials:

 There are certain toxins that get dissolved in stormwater including phthalates, which are found in plastic bottles and packaging, zinc, copper and phosphorous. Once they are in stormwater, Derry said, it is very hard to get them out, so he said it is time to ban them through local, state and federal regulations.

7. Limit roads:

 More roads mean more impermeable surfaces and less soil to soak up stormwater. Streets must be designed to slow traffic and create walkable communities. Derry said we need to encourage communities that aren’t designed by “carchitects.”

8. Mandatory basin plans

9. Fund regional monitoring

10. Send money

Derry said people might think the answer is just to build more treatment plants. But treatment plants won’t deal with dissolved toxins or damage to watersheds and the species living in them. “(They’re) not a solution except in some very, very overly developed areas,” he said.

Derry said the changes this region needs to make are big and said we need to start talking about them now.

“This isn’t something we can do instantly because we’re affecting the way people use their property and that would be a lot of discussion,” he said, “but we need to start that discussion in serious ways , and the sooner the better.”