I am representing the Ikkatsu Project on a Committee that is part of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative. We are working toward building better communication among environmental educators and bringing the watershed together around issues that directly affect the health of our home. The Puyallup River flows about 45 miles from Mount Rainier to Puget Sound and the streams and creeks that feed it occupy a huge swath of the south Sound region.
It occurred to me that, even though I am sitting on this committee, making decisions about programs that affect various parts of this watershed, I don’t know the area the way I should. I wasn’t able to see the course of the river in my mind’s eye, to picture the towns it passed through from the high country to the sea, and this unfamiliarity and general lack of knowledge is unacceptable. It has been too long since I have been in the mountains or on a river somewhere.
I went for a drive, from Tacoma up through Puyallup and Buckley, on up to Electron and out past Lake Kapowsin. I stopped at a few points along the way to take photos and contemplate the route, and everywhere I went seemed to be layered in plastic. Every ditch and gully was a tangle of food wrappers, grocery bags and bottles; plastic soda and water bottles dotted the creek sides and adorned every mile of shoulder. Somewhere in all this, it hit me.
When I give presentations about plastic in the marine environment, I often cite the estimate that 80% of all plastic debris in the oceans comes from some kind of land-based source. I’ve recited this nugget so many times and it rolls off the tongue so easily now, but I don’t know that I ever really considered what it meant until I took this drive into the country. These little chunks and clusters of plastic that line the roadways and the watercourses are exactly what that statistic is talking about. These are the sources of the plastic shitteree that is headed someday for the open sea. From ditch to ravine to creek to stream to river to the salt water. The ocean starts here, and higher up as well, on the flanks of Mount Rainier.
I’ve made the decision to travel the length of the river this year, from the Puyallup glacier to Commencement Bay. It will work out to be about 60 miles of climbing, backpacking, mountain biking and canoeing. It will be an extremely low-water year if things continue as they are going, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing for this kind of trip. It seems like it will be a good way to not only get familiar with the watershed in a very tactile and first-person manner, but also to understand a bit more about the way that plastic travels through our world.
More on this as it develops.