Jul 28, 2023

National Estuary Program Highlight Series: Puget Sound Partnership

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring other National Estuary Programs around the nation.

Header photo courtesy of Brandon Sawaya.

The Puget Sound Partnership

The Puget Sound Partnership (Partnership) is the Washington state agency and National Estuary Program leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound. We bring together hundreds of partners to mobilize action and investments around a common agenda to protect and restore Puget Sound.

What makes Puget Sound special

Puget Sound nourishes the region’s health, economy, environment, and quality of life. It encompasses the southern half of the Salish Sea, which spans across international borders. Coast Salish people have stewarded these lands and waters, and fished, hunted, cultivated, and gathered throughout the region since time immemorial. Its snowcapped mountains and sparkling waters continue to attract people and businesses from around the world.

The Salish Sea is a bioregion encompassing the inland marine waterways of British Columbia and Washington and their watersheds. The Puget Sound encompasses the southern half of the Salish Sea within Washington. Map courtesy of Puget Sound Partnership.

About Puget Sound

Puget Sound is a fjord estuary, which means its basins were carved by glaciers. Those deep basins make Puget Sound the second-largest estuary in the nation; it holds about 40 cubic miles of water. An estimated 2,800 streams, from rivers to creeks, flow into Puget Sound.

The Puget Sound coastal shoreline lies within twelve of Washington State’s thirty-nine counties. About seventy-five percent of Washington State’s population lives in those twelve counties that surround Puget Sound.

Photo of the Dosewallips River flowing into Hood Canal, part of Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Partnership.

However, Puget Sound is not doing well. The Puget Sound ecosystem faces challenges that include the degradation of water quality, water quantity, and habitat; pollution from contaminants in stormwater and from other sources; and the effects of climate change, which include warming ocean and air temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and ocean acidification.

Species in Puget Sound

Puget Sound supports more than 250 fish species, 38 marine mammal species, 172 bird species, and a large variety of invertebrate species too.

Photo of J16 Southern Resident orca breaching while J26 swims nearby. Photo from NOAA Fisheries West Coast, courtesy of Katy Foster, NOAA Fisheries.

The Southern Resident orcas, which eat primarily Chinook salmon, range in the Salish Sea and along the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada. In the late 1990s, Southern Resident orcas experienced a dramatic decline in their population. The combination of dwindling Pacific salmon abundance and threats from pollution, vessel traffic, and noise continues to jeopardize the orcas. As a result, they are federally listed as endangered. As of the July 2022 census, there were 73 Southern Resident orcas.

Photo of Chinook salmon in Illabot Creek. Photo courtesy of Eric Mickelson, Skagit River System Cooperative.

There are eight species of salmonids, fish in the salmon family, that use Puget Sound. These include Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum salmon, and pink salmon; steelhead and cutthroat trout; and bull trout. Three of those species are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.

History of the Partnership

Congress created the National Estuary Program (NEP) in 1987 and designated Puget Sound as an Estuary of National Significance in 1988. Between 1987 and 2007, there were various iterations of efforts involved in Puget Sound recovery. The Washington State Legislature then created the Puget Sound Partnership in 2007 as the state agency dedicated to coordinating and leading the effort to restore and protect Puget Sound. In this role, the Partnership also serves as the state’s salmon recovery lead organization.

Photo of people walking along a path near Ruston waterfront, with Mount Rainier beyond the skyline. Photo courtesy of Tim Rue.

The role of the Puget Sound Partnership

We facilitate collaboration on Puget Sound recovery and provide leadership through the collective development of the Puget Sound Action Agenda (the community’s shared plan for recovery), progress measurements, and funding strategy.

Our role includes the following:

  • ALIGN THE WORK OF PARTNERS around a shared vision and strategy, the Puget Sound Action Agenda (which is the Puget Sound NEP Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP)). The Action Agenda helps the recovery community allocate resources based on a science-driven, prioritized system.
  • ENSURE SMART INVESTMENTS through a shared, science-based system of measurement and monitoring that promotes accountability, effectiveness, and progress. This helps inform decisions about the most efficient ways to allocate future investments.
  • SUPPORT PRIORITY ACTIONS by promoting policy and advocating for funding needed for local and regional partners to succeed in achieving Puget Sound recovery goals. We strive to remove barriers for our partners by directing outside resources toward priority actions, improving the policy and regulatory environment, and working as a catalyst within the system to get the job done.
Photo of people enjoying Owen Beach, part of Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. Photo courtesy of Tim Rue.

Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program

We also support and assist the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP), which is a collaborative network of subject matter experts from many monitoring organizations throughout the region. Together, they generate and communicate scientific information to track Puget Sound ecosystem conditions.

Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund

With the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, we co-administer the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) fund, which supports projects that recover salmon and protect and recover salmon habitat in Puget Sound.

PSAR investments have helped restore and protect over 3,300 acres of estuary habitat, more than 150 miles for fish passage, and over 14,000 acres of watershed habitat. These projects support multiple benefits in addition to Puget Sound salmon, including climate resilience and flood protection, recreation, and tribal treaty rights.

Aerial photo of the Nisqually River delta. Photo courtesy of Kiliii Yuyan.

Our partners

We work with tribal nations, federal government agencies, congressional delegation, state agencies, local governments and local organizations, nonprofits, representatives from businesses and agriculture, and community members.

Help us protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary!