Sunset on the Puget SoundPhoto: ehpien via Flickr.Views like this are one of the reasons we Seattleites suffer through our long, cloudy, rainy fallwinterspring season. But the beauty can be quite deceptive.

No fishing signBeneath that reflective surface flow poisoned waters, contaminated with chemicals from agricultural runoff, prescription meds, cosmetics, industrial pollutants, and more — reflections, you might say, of modern life.

“The irony is that everybody looks at that [picturesque] scene and thinks that it’s great; everything is right with the world in Elliott Bay,” says scuba diver Mike Racine. “But in point of fact, not 100 feet away from where they are drinking a nice glass of wine off their white linen, there is this unbelievable gunk coming out of the end of this pipe.”

PBS’ Frontline tomorrow night explores this irony and reflects on the state of the nation’s waterways some three decades after the Clean Water Act. Speaking to concerned citizens like Racine as well as scientists, corporate-folk, and politicians, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith focuses on the Chesapeake Bay and the Puget Sound to tell the story of how we’ve neglected these hidden ecosystems and what it’ll take to restore them.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out,” says Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) of the 150,000 pounds of untreated toxins that hit the Sound each day. “We [now] know that’s not true. It’s like a bathtub: What you put in stays there.”

Here’s the (depressingly honest) trailer:

The two-hour Poisoned Waters episode airs April 21 from 9-11 p.m. ET on PBS. Check your local listings for more information.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.