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November 5, 2009

UW’s newly-formed Puget Sound Institute to advise in the clean-up of the Sound

News and Information

The $50 million appropriated by Congress last week to the Puget Sound Partnership for the clean-up of Puget Sound includes $4 million for the UW to launch an institute to provide expert advice about the Sound, based on the best-available science, to the partnership, policy makers and citizens.

The newly funded UW Puget Sound Institute is designed to be the bridge between the scientific community and those charged with restoring and protecting Puget Sound, says Joel Baker, UW Tacoma professor and science director of the Center for Urban Waters. The initiative is a partnership between the center and the UW’s new College of the Environment. Among other things the institute will convene panels of experts, much as the National Research Council does.

The $50 million for the Puget Sound Partnership is an increase of $30 million over the current budget. It’s part of the $32 billion Interior and Environmental Appropriations Bill approved Oct. 29. The bill now goes to the president.

As the Puget Sound Partnership begins implementing its “action agenda,” those overseeing the restoration want to ensure the steps being taken are based on the best possible scientific and technological understanding, says Baker. That’s the idea behind the institute.

“The independence of universities, combined with the unique academic culture of convening experts, puts us in a key position to provide elected leaders and policy makers responsible for the restoration and protection of the Puget Sound ecosystem with expert advice based on sound scientific information and principles,” Baker wrote in the proposal for the institute.

One key institute activity will be to convene leading authorities from a diversity of disciplines to conduct commissioned reviews and evaluations and provide consensus-based information to the State Legislature, agencies and other interested groups. The institute also will form working groups to synthesize available scientific information and identify research needs as they emerge.

“UW faculty regularly participate in similar activities addressing national and global concerns, now the institute will help focus their efforts and those of other scientists on the needs of Puget Sound,” says Stephanie Harrington, assistant dean of the College of the Environment.

The institute will be governed by a standing advisory board of senior policy makers, scientists and staffed by an executive director, an assistant and a few program mangers.

Offices for the Puget Sound Institute will be located in the Center for Urban Waters building now under construction in downtown Tacoma.