Clean water proves an elusive goal around Puget Sound

A blue heron wades on the shores of Seattle’s Ship Canal in the pounding rain. Head lowered, eyes focused, it’s ready to snag a fish. The bird’s wild beauty stands out in this industrial landscape at the edge of the Ballard district, a hair’s breath from a busy Seattle arterial.

Look more closely at the water, as Sue Joerger of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance does in the course of her work, and you’ll find what she calls “a classic dilemma” playing out for wild and marine creatures in Puget Sound waters everywhere: sporadic but at times uncontrolled pollution. The levels are generally low enough to allow wildlife to survive but high enough to pose real threats to others and keep the ecosystem from truly thriving.

Indeed, 44 years after the nation enacted the Clean Water Act — states and cities followed with their own anti-pollution laws — illegal levels of pollution are easy to observe. In fact, part of Joerger’s job as the Alliance’s field director is to look for the pollution that continues to hurt the Sound and its wildlife.c