This page provides an overview of wetlands protection for local governments in Washington State, including relevant laws, examples of local ordinances, and resources for further information.
Wetlands are fragile ecosystems that serve important beneficial functions, such as assisting in the reduction of erosion, siltation, flooding, ground and surface water pollution, and providing wildlife, plant, and fisheries habitats. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Wetlands are identified as critical areas in the Washington State Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A.030(5) and RCW 36.70A.060). This page provides information of use to local governments in their wetlands regulation and permitting functions.
In Washington State, the Department of Ecology is charged with protecting, restoring, and regulating wetland resources. Two state laws, the State Water Pollution Control Act and the Shoreline Management Act, give Ecology the authority to regulate wetlands. Ecology also uses the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process to identify potential wetland-related concerns early in the permitting process.
Wetlands are rated according to a system that organizes wetlands into four categories based on wetland functions, sensitivity to disturbance, rarity, and ability to replace them. Wetland delineation involves determining the edge of a wetland based on three parameters: water, plants, and soil.
Strategies for saving wetlands and other critical areas include limiting uses and avoiding development in some areas, transferring development density to another site or a non-sensitive portion of a large site, and public purchase of valuable or unique wetlands. Buffer areas around wetlands and along streams are also used to protect the functions of these critical areas. Mitigation of impacts on wetlands and other critical areas involves reducing the adverse impacts of a project to an acceptable level. In addition to critical areas regulations, nonregulatory and incentive programs are also used to protect wetlands.
The following are general websites and webpages that provide guidance on wetlands protection.
- Wetlands and Watersheds, Center for Watershed Protection - Provides guidance to communities on how to integrate wetlands into larger watershed protection efforts. Includes articles, slide shows, bibliographies, links, and events.
- King County Introduction to Wetlands - Good general introduction to wetlands and their functions
- Critical Areas, related MRSC page
- Flexibility in Environmental Regulation, related MRSC page
- Onsite Density Transfer for Critical Areas, related MRSC page
- Flexible Buffer Widths, related MRSC page
- Wetland Mitigation Banking, related MRSC page
- Incentive Programs - Critical Areas, related MRSC page
This section includes information on wetlands regulations and protection from federal agencies that is relevant to local governments.
Washington State Resources
Washington State departments, especially the Department of Ecology, offer excellent information on wetlands protection and resources. Under the Growth Management Act, local governments are required to use the best available science when reviewing and revising their policies and regulations on wetlands.
- Washington State Department of Ecology, Wetlands - See left column for list of specific topics
- Wetlands and Critical Areas Ordinance Updates, Guidance for Small Cities, Department of Ecology
- Wetland Mitigation in Washington State, Part 1: Agency Policies and Guidance, Washington State Department of Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 03/2006 - See Chapter 2, Background on Wetlands and Chapter 5, Types of Compensatory Mitigation
- Wetland Mitigation in Washington State, Part 2: Developing Mitigation Plans,Washington State Department of Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 03/2006
- Selecting Wetland Mitigation Sites Using a Watershed Approach (Western Washington), 12/2009 - Department of Ecology guidance issued for selecting wetland mitigation sites
- Wetland Permits, Environmental Permit Handbook, Governor's Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA)
- Best Available Science for Wetlands, Washington State Department of Ecology - Links to Wetlands in Washington State - Volume 1: A Synthesis of the Science, Wetlands in Washington State - Volume 2: Guidance for Protecting and Managing Wetlands, and Update on Wetland Buffers: The State of the Science
- Washington State Wetland Rating Systems for Eastern and Western Washington
- Wetland Mitigation Banking, Washington State Department of Ecology
Local Ordinances and Information
This section includes selected local ordinances from Washington jurisdictions and development assistance handouts on wetlands.
- Clark County Code Ch. 40.450 - Wetland Protection
- Island County Wetlands main page - Includes links to Development Assistance Bulletins, wetlands identification guides, best available science, and wetlands critical areas ordinance
- Kent Development Assistance Brochure #9 Wetland Delineation Reports , Development Assistance Brochure #10-1 Conceptual Mitigation Plans for Wetlands, Streams, and Associated Buffers , and #10-2 Final Conceptual Mitigation Plans for Wetlands, Streams, and Associated Buffers
- King County Wetlands page
- Kitsap County Wetland Areas
- Mukilteo Municipal Code Ch.17.52B - Wetland Regulations - Recommended as an example for other cities
- Redmond Zoning Code Sec. 21.64.030 - Wetlands
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 17E.70 - Wetlands Protection
- Sumner Ordinance No. 2212, passed 05/21/2007
- Woodinville Wetland and Stream Mitigation Guidelines
Many local governments hire wetland experts to prepare and update wetlands ordinances. Local governments also require developers to do special studies of wetlands located on a proposed development site. Some jurisdictions have prepared lists of preferred wetlands consultants.