Lawmakers gathered at The Nature Conservancy in downtown Seattle Tuesday to announce a major effort to restoring the health of Puget Sound.
"Nobody here should underestimate how big a day this is. This is a big day," said Rep. Denny Heck, D-10th district. "Fifty years from now if they write the history of restoring the Puget Sound and rehabilitating it, they will point to this day and it will get its own chapter as a significant step forward."
Heck joined his Washington D.C. officemate, Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-6th district, to make good on a promise they made last year: that Puget Sound would gain federal significance to protect fragile resources.
"They are not a given. They are a promise. They are a promise we make to Sophie and Tess Kilmer and to everyone in their generation. It's a promise we make to future generations as well," Kilmer said.
They announced the creation of a task force that will include representatives from the Obama Administration, tribal leadership and conservationists, along with more than $600 million in federal funding commitments.
"And this announcement is the starting gun. This is the moment we dedicate our resources and our commitment to the Puget Sound and we hope to deliver on that before this administration ends," said Christy Goldfuss, managing director of President Obama's White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The money will address stormwater run-off, shellfish sustainability, and important habitat restoration for fish, among other projects.
"What we're going to do together is momentous. I was afraid to tell my people that there are no more salmon. Our way of life is gone," said Tulalip Indian Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon.
One of the major projects includes fish passage at the Mud Mountain Dam on the White River. It is projected to be completed by December 2020 at a cost of more than $100 million. It will open important spawning ground for ESA listed chinook, the main diet for southern resident orcas.
"Puget Sound looks beautiful and healthy and pristine. It's surface is gorgeous. It is the ecosystem underneath, the purity and cleanliness of the water that we're concerned about," Governor Jay Inslee said.
Future federal funding still needs congressional approval, and the task force has 90 days to develop a more specific plan.