Keeping Water Clean

The ocean and especially the Salish Sea contain many pollutants, some of which have been there for generations and some new ones entering today.

Contaminants enter the Salish Sea and other waterways from rainwater running off parking lots, houses, and industrial sites; from sewer and other wastewater systems; from the air; from other animals; and from direct pollution, such as oil and chemical spills. Once there, they are eaten and absorbed by the smallest of animals, which are eaten by salmon, and ultimately eaten by orcas.

Graphic of what orca eat

Contaminants are poorly metabolized, meaning they stay active in the body longer, causing more damage over time. Contaminants can cause health problems in orcas and their food, such as altering their hormone levels, making it harder to have babies or increasing miscarriages, reducing their ability to fight diseases, damaging their neurological systems, and causing cancer.

When Southern Residents begin to suffer from a lack of food, their bodies use their fat to maintain their energy. The contaminants stored in their fat are then released into their bodies, potentially making them sicker.

The task force developed several recommendations for reducing the exposure of orcas and salmon to contaminants. Learn more about these recommendations and the progress being made.

Graphic courtesy of the Defenders of Wildlife and Washington Environmental Council. The full graphic may be found at Orcas Love Rain Gardens

Task Force Recommendations


Recommendation: 29
Status: Underway

Accelerate the implementation of the ban on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in state-purchased products and make information available online for other purchasers.


Recommendation: 30
Status: Underway

Identify, prioritize, and take action on chemicals that impact orcas and their prey.


Recommendation: 31
Status: Underway

Reduce stormwater threats and accelerate clean-up of toxics that are harmful to orcas.


Recommendation: 32
Status: Underway

Improve effectiveness, implementation, and enforcement of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to address direct threats to Southern Resident orcas and their prey.


Recommendation: 33
Status: Underway

Increase monitoring of toxic substances in marine waters; create and deploy adaptive management strategies to reduce threats to orcas and their prey.


Recommendation: 37
Status: Underway

Protect against regulatory rollbacks at the federal and state level.


Recommendation: 38
Status: Complete

Explore setting minimum standards for local stormwater funding to ensure that all programs have the resources necessary to protect water quality.


Recommendation: 39
Status: Complete

Develop a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit framework for advanced wastewater treatment in Puget Sound to reduce nutrients in wastewater discharges to Puget Sound by 2022.


Recommendation: 40
Status: Underway

Better align existing nonpoint programs with nutrient reduction activities and explore new ways to achieve the necessary nonpoint source nutrient reductions.


Recommendation: 41
Status: Underway

Collect high-quality nutrient data in watersheds to fill key knowledge gaps of baseline conditions.