Government Accountability Office: Governor Inslee and Washington State Department of Ecology Responsible For Salmon Decline

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing how Governor Jay Inslee’s administration failed to adequately address impaired water quality in Puget Sound, further threatening endangered salmon populations and leading to their decline. The report, which was requested by Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), concluded the following:

  • Salmon face a number of health impacts from impaired water quality in the Puget Sound. 
  • Efforts to improve water quality in the Puget Sound have been hampered by missed deadlines in the development and approval of impaired water lists by the Washington State Department of Ecology. 
  • Governor Jay Inslee and Ecology have taken a backseat, failing to meet deadlines and develop plans to improve water quality, despite water quality being significantly detrimental to the health of salmon, which then impacts the health of orcas in the Puget Sound. 

In response to the GAO’s findings, Rodgers was joined by Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Cliff Bentz (OR-02) in releasing the following statement:

“It doesn’t require an advanced degree to understand that years of dumping raw sewage and pollution into the Puget Sound would decimate salmon populations. That simple fact is now indisputable with this GAO report, which exposes what we’ve known to be true all along: Governor Inslee and the Washington Department of Ecology are responsible for killing Puget Sound salmon and must be held accountable for their negligence.

“For the last decade, this administration has been so distracted by misguided efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams that they completely ignored the salmon being poisoned in their own backyard. Their consistent failure to meet water quality assessment deadlines – while turning a blind eye to ongoing pollution – not only violated federal law, but it also suffocated the salmon most critical to the health and sustainability of Puget Sound Orcas. Hypocritical and politically-motivated does not even begin to describe this blatant dereliction of duty.”

Below are key excerpts from the GAO report entitled, “Puget Sound: Further Actions Could Improve Efforts to Address Impaired Water Quality That Threatens Salmon.”

Bad Water Quality Is Killing Salmon: “NOAA and Washington State have identified impaired water quality as a key factor that has contributed to the decline in Puget Sound salmon and presents an ongoing challenge to efforts to recover salmon populations in the region.

“Impaired water quality has a variety of harmful effects on the health and survival of Puget Sound salmon in both marine and freshwater environments at different stages of their life cycle, according to NOAA documents. Impaired water quality can result in both lethal and nonlethal effects on salmon, and the interaction of different types of impairments may exacerbate the risks that salmon face.”

Federal Law Requires Action: “The Clean Water Act and EPA regulations require states to develop these lists—known as impaired waters lists—every 2 years. Ecology has developed two such lists since 2012, but it completed these lists several years after the deadlines for doing so and has missed subsequent deadlines. EPA also has not met deadlines for reviewing and approving the lists. Because of the agencies’ missed deadlines, the most recent list covered the 2014, 2016, and 2018 assessment cycles but was not finalized until 2022.”

Missed Deadlines Are Making Things Worse: “Impaired water quality has played an important role in the decline in Puget Sound salmon populations. However, efforts to improve water quality in the region have been hampered by missed deadlines in the development and approval of impaired waters lists.”

CLICK HERE to read the full report.

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