Anne Shaffer is the Executive Director & Lead Scientist of the Coastal Watershed Institute. I…
Remembering Pat Sumption
John & Rachael Osborn:
First, let us thank Pat’s three sons – David, Cameron, and Chris – especially for helping their mother in the last part of her life’s journey.
Pat Sumption was a consummate environmental activist. She was dauntless, persistent, strategic, and unerring in her sense of the right thing to do, especially for Washington’s rivers. She worked for decades for the protection of the Green River, including standing up to Tacoma’s ever-thirsty water grab through the infamous Pipeline Five.
Rachael uncovered an essay Pat herself had written and published in the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) newsletter in 2016. Here are Pat’s words from “Love Letter to the Green River”:
I didn’t mean to fall in love with the Green River. It just happened. It just grew like Topsy.
I discovered rivers when I went to Girl Scout camp at 12. We did a multi-day hike on the Dosewallips. We swam in the river and nearly froze our toes, and it was beautiful and I was in love with the Dosewallips and rivers everywhere. So it was inevitable when someone aimed me at a river canoe, that I would get in it and try paddling. And, I guess it was inevitable when I was told to choose my favorite Washington river at a State Rivers Conference in the 1980’s, that I would choose the Green. It is the color of my eyes, after all, and I had to choose something.
All those at the Conference who chose the Green (even if their eyes weren’t), were sent to one corner and told that our task was to form a Green River group which would then work on protecting our chosen River. There must have been other fanatics in our Group, because we did just that: we formed Friends of the Green River and started raising money and incorporating a non-profit. And the more I did for the Green, the more I fell in love with it.
The Green River has a secret that gets many people hooked on it. Part of it is hidden in a deep, quiet gorge that’s almost inaccessible except by boat. Boaters come from all over the world to boat the Green River Gorge. It’s untrammeled, pristine, gorgeously draped in damp green mosses and ferns – a fantasy, watery, world of Green.
But, the Green River has 2 dams on it. The Corps of Engineers built a dam for flood control in the middle of the 20th Century. Tacoma then built a smaller dam downstream . . . [to pipe] Green River water to municipal customers in Pierce County.
Those dams meant problems for the ecology of the Green, and for recreational boaters. They were threats to the salmon and steelhead runs of the Green River; there was no fish passage for either dam.
By the 1980s, Tacoma had plans to build a new water supply pipeline through south King County rather than directly to Pierce County and Tacoma, because they wanted to sell some of that water to the water districts and towns in south King County along the way.
Friends of the Green River (FOG) had been created to protect the Green and its watershed, including not allowing more water to be taken from the River. FOG appealed … the permits to build the new Pipeline through King County where it would cross a number of streams, wetlands, etc. …
We eventually … negotiated with Tacoma and a 1995 Agreement gave us a number of things that could help the Green River, its habitat, its salmon and perhaps even its white water boaters. …
Remember, it takes a community to care for a river and its watershed.
And this from Elaine Packard, friend and colleague in advocacy for Washington’s rivers:
“Pat was a longstanding member of the Sierra Club’s Water & Salmon Committee which she chaired for a time. For decades, she was one of its most dedicated members, serving as activist, as well as mentor and advisor. And Pat brought institutional memory along with her expertise about water. Anyone who worked to protect rivers in Washington: she knew them and she’d probably worked with them.
Pat’s training as a lawyer gave her a laser mind on issues. But it was her love of rivers that inspired her to serve in many leadership roles with Sierra Club, Friends of the Green River, CELP, Rivers Council, and other groups. She will be missed and remembered fondly for her commitment, her persistence, and her special charm. She was a respected elder in the Chapter whose memory will not be forgotten.”
In closing, rivers and future generations, depend on us to give them a voice. Pat gave voice to rivers.
On the day before Pat’s life celebration, Rachael and I sat and talked about Pat. How is it that someone with such a powerful presence can be among us on one day, and then be gone the next? Where are they? Where did they go?
Flowing through forests and human communities in western Washington is the Green River. Pat may be gone. Pat’s spirit? Pat remains with the river she so deeply loves. Let Pat’s love and work for rivers carry on through all of us.