The Freshwater Trust partners with King County to help improve water quality in Puget Sound

July 31, 2020

PORTLAND, OREGON – August 3, 2020 – The Freshwater Trust (TFT) signed an agreement with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) of Seattle, Washington, to assess the feasibility of a collaborative, multi-party program to improve the water quality of the Puget Sound.

This is TFT’s first contract with a municipality in the state of Washington.

Water quality of the Puget Sound has been suffering, due to multiple stressors, including nutrient pollution from connected rivers and nearly 100 wastewater discharges. Marine life in the Sound is negatively impacted by the pollution, which creates low-oxygen conditions in the near-shore waters. Additionally, local streams and rivers in the Puget Sound region support culturally and economically important populations of environmentally sensitive Pacific salmon and resident Orca.

TFT’s work with King County will protect native fish populations, including environmentally sensitive Pacific salmon.

TFT will help the King County WTD determine the feasibility of, and an outline for, the design and development of a transparent, multi-party “water quality trading program” (WQT) to reduce pounds of nutrients making their way to the Puget Sound. This analysis would lay the groundwork for on-the-ground restoration projects, where outcomes could be turned into credits, allow King County WTD to achieve and maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA), and achieve goals for the overall health of the watershed and the County’s Clean Water Plan.

King County WTD is preparing the Clean Water Plan to guide its water quality investments through the year 2060. Development of the Clean Water Plan is driven by a set of complex issues facing the region that necessitate a comprehensive evaluation of how the agency can maximize the benefits of its future water quality investments to deliver the best water quality, economic, social and health outcomes for the region.

TFT has helped build five WQT programs for regulated entities in the Northwest since 2012, including the nationally recognized trading program in the Rogue River basin with the City of Medford, Oregon. TFT has also worked with the Idaho Power Company to develop a large-scale watershed compliance program in the Snake River basin. Our approach that prioritizes quantified environmental benefits and delivers cost-effective results will be applied to King County.

King County wastewater treatment facilities treat more than 66 billion gallons annually, which serve more than 1.8 million residents. The County’s Clean Water, Healthy Habitat initiative, along with WTD’s Clean Water Plan, examine how the region uses water and how both utilities and the community as a whole can take actions now for a resilient future.

Under the CWA, a wastewater treatment facility or any point source of pollution can offset its nutrient impacts and protect water quality by using natural infrastructure options to control and capture nutrients before they reach the water. Actions can include urban stormwater management, beneficial recycling of treated water, and adjustments in agricultural practices throughout the watershed, such as installing vegetated buffers and wetlands at the edges of field and upgrading crop irrigation systems.

“King County is taking a proactive approach to its water resource,” said Jason Myers, freshwater solutions manager with TFT. “They recognize the serious threats facing the Sound and are stepping up to develop a collaborative plan with multiple stakeholders to tackle the problem.”

As part of our work with the County, TFT will provide WTD with the necessary background and knowledge to assess water quality trading as a part of a compliance solution. Additionally, TFT will review current policies for potential hurdles and coordinate with regional stakeholders, such as regulated entities, regulating agencies and public interest organizations, to ensure that regional initiatives are informed by each other when considering water quality trading solutions.

“We’re building the scaffolding for a strong framework that will set the Sound on a critical path to recovery,” said Myers.

The Freshwater Trust is a nonprofit with a mission to preserve and restore freshwater ecosystems. The 36-year-old organization develops data analytics applications and methodologies to support strategic watershed restoration project planning, tracking and reporting. Since 2011, TFT has used its patented StreamBank® suite of tools, including its BasinScout methods, for assessing watersheds, prioritizing restoration actions and monitoring long-term benefits. In addition to technology, TFT has three decades of experience implementing projects in and along rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest to benefit native species habitat, water quality and streamflow goals.

In 2014, TFT along with U.S. EPA Region 10, Washington Department of Ecology, water quality agency staff from Idaho and Oregon, and Willamette Partnership released draft recommendations on approaches to water quality trading in the Pacific Northwest. These recommendations ensure that trading programs have the quality, credibility and transparency necessary to be consistent with the CWA and state water quality laws.

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