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.
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.
- Growth Management Act
- Chapter 90.58 RCW – Shoreline Management Act
- RCW 90.58.380 – Adoption of wetland manual
- Chapter 90.84 RCW – Wetlands Mitigation Banking
- Chapter 173-22 WAC – Adoption of Designations of Shorelands and Wetlands Associated with Shorelines of the State
- WAC 173-26-221(2)(c)(I) – Shoreline master program provisions, Wetlands
- WAC 173-158-080 – Wetlands management in flood plains
- WAC 173-183-700 – Vulnerability of freshwater wetland environments to oil spills
- WAC 173-183-710 – Wetlands vulnerability classification
- Chapter 173-201A WAC – Water Quality Standards for Surface Waters of the State of Washington
- Chapter 197-700 WAC – Wetland Mitigation Banks
- WAC 365-190-080 – Critical areas
- WAC 365-196-485 – Critical areas
- WAC 365-195-900 - 365-195-925 – Part Nine, Best Available Science
This section includes information on wetlands regulations and protection from federal agencies that is relevant to local governments.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Wetlands Protection and Restoration – General information about wetlands and federal regulations
- Background About Compensatory Mitigation Requirements – Includes information on Final Compensatory Mitigation Rule regarding compensatory mitigation for authorized impacts to wetlands, streams, and other waters of the U.S. under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act
- Wetland Program Development Grants and EPA Wetlands Grant Coordinators – Financial assistance for wetland protection and enhancement for state, tribal and local governments
- Estuaries and the National Estuary Program – Network of voluntary community-based programs to protect fragile coastal estuaries
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- National Wetlands Inventory – Provides detailed information on the abundance, characteristics, and distribution of US wetlands
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 Department of Ecology
- Wetlands – Overview of federal, state, and local regulations, mitigation resources, and additional tools
- Local Wetland Regulations: Growth Management Act Technical Assistance – Guidance for local governments
- Interagency Wetland Mitigation Guidance – Two-part interagency document providing guidance on wetland mitigation. Pt. 1 and 2 are linked below:
- Selecting Wetland Mitigation Sites Using a Watershed Approach (Western Washington) (2009)
- Selecting Wetland Mitigation Sites Using a Watershed Approach (Eastern Washington) (2010)
- Best Available Science for Wetlands – Under the GMA, local governments are required to use the best available science in their policies and regulations on wetlands. This page provides documents on the science currently available about wetlands, their functions, and management.
- Wetland Rating Systems for Eastern and Western Washington
- Wetland Mitigation Banking
Governor's Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA)
- Wetland Permits – Environmental Permit Handbook (Scroll to bottom to view)
This section includes selected local ordinances from Washington jurisdictions and development assistance handouts on wetlands.
Codes and Ordinances
- Clark County Code Ch. 40.450 – Wetland Protection
- 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 (2007)
- Woodinville Municipal Code Sec. 21.51.340 – Wetlands - Mitigation
Development Assistance Handouts on Wetlands
- Island County: What are Wetlands? – Includes links to wetlands resources, wetlands identification guides, best available science, and wetlands critical areas ordinance
- Kent Development Assistance Brochures
- King County Wetlands
- Kitsap County: Brochure # 27 - Wetlands
The following are general websites and webpages that provide guidance on wetlands protection.