The Bainbridge Island North Kitsap Interfaith Council has learned from the Suquamish Tribe that in recent years, according to public records, King County has repeatedly released into Puget Sound very large quantities of untreated or improperly treated sewage. (The latest one just last week.)
That has caused harm and hazards to marine water quality and aquatic species and to the safe harvesting and human consumption of shellfish and fish; also causing posting of health advisories and closures of beaches and disturbing important tribal cultural activities.
We also have learned that in July of 2020 that the Tribe sent to King County a notice of intent to sue to seek a halt to these continuing sewage spills as violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Tribal treaty rights, and that subsequently Tribal representatives have been engaged in discussions with King County representatives seeking appropriate remedies.
We urge that in these discussions and their results, the county devote its very best efforts to seek and carry out solutions that give due regard and respect to the vital importance of clean marine waters to the Tribe and its members, to the health of aquatic life, and to the welfare of great numbers of people throughout the Puget Sound community.
Our concern about this situation reflects some of our council’s stated purposes including: to work for justice, dignity and opportunity for all persons; to assist in responses to human needs; to nurture peace and healing within and among communities; and to seek ways to care for and protect our earth and its creatures.
In considering how we could help to serve these purposes, we recognize that the waters of Puget Sound and other waterways flowing into it are the Suquamish Tribe’s most treasured resource, where Tribal members have fished and gathered shellfish for thousands of years. We know that after non-Indian’s occupations of the Tribe’s lands began, the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty with the federal government forced the Tribe and its members to give up title to most of their lands; but that Treaty did reserve to Tribal members rights to take and gather fish and shellfish in accustomed areas and ways.
However, as time went by, Tribe members were effectively prevented by state practices and regulations from exercising those treaty-protected rights as originally intended — until finally those rights were reconfirmed in prolonged federal court litigation.
So, the Suquamish people’s rights to take and gather fish and shellfish in and from Treaty-protected waters and seashores may now exist on paper; but those Treaty rights are harmfully violated by repeated sewage releases that pollute the same waters and shores.
Thus, justice is being denied by King County to the Tribe’s members, by serious disregard of their Treaty rights, and also to the extent the discharges are unlawful under the Clean Water Act. And the releases also impair Tribe members’ economic opportunities to harvest and sell edible seafoods.
We care about these issues not only because the releases’ harmful effects on our Suquamish neighbors, but also their effects on and hazards to our communities’ environment, in which clean waters and unpolluted beaches are essential for all sea life and relied on by great numbers of humans for healthy seafood, recreation and other activities of life.
We are grateful to the Suquamish Tribe and its members for their steadfast dedicated efforts to protect these waters and shores. We believe that all of us who share these waters with the Tribe, including King County, share with the Tribe the responsibility for their protection.
In this proceeding we see the Tribe making to the county a strong and urgent call and plea for such protection. We think that in responding, King County and its executive, Dow Constantine, have an important opportunity to share in a solution that is needed for the protection of these waters and shores, by agreeing and swiftly acting to do all that is necessary to permanently discontinue the hazardous sewage spills from which the Tribe seeks relief.
Dick Goff is a delegate on Bainbridge Island North Kitsap Interfaith Council, an association of 21 diverse local faith groups along with other allied nonprofit organizations, founded in 1997.