Photo by Hugh Shipman.

Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP)

This web page provides electronic data and other information to support counties that are planning under the Washington State’s Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP).

The VSP provides an alternative incentive-based approach for counties to address two fundamental goals of our state’s Growth Management Act (GMA): “Protect and enhance critical areas within the area where agricultural activities are conducted, while maintaining and improving the long-term viability of agriculture in the state of Washington and reducing the conversion of farmland to other uses” (RCW 36.70A.700.) 

The Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) oversees and administers funding for counties to develop and implement VSP work plans. More information on the VSP program is available from the Washington State Conservation Commission. The program contact is Bill Eller (509-385-7512 or

Ecology and VSP

Ecology is interested in helping VSP watersheds achieve compliance with clean water requirements, and protect and restore critical areas. At this time, Ecology has limited capacity to engage with the multiple VSP work plans being developed this biennium. While we are not able to participate actively in VSP technical committees or routinely attend meetings, we can provide the following technical support.

We offer the most current information on the following Critical Areas:

  • Wetlands
  • Critical aquifer recharge areas
  • Frequently flooded areas

As well as:

  • Clean water standards including 303[d] listings, local plans, and TMDLs/nonpoint pollution
  • Shoreline Management

We also offer responses to specific technical questions and review sections of draft VSP work plans addressing Ecology's areas of expertise. Our email address for inquiries is:

VSP Planning and Mapping Resources

Identifying Critical Areas

Participating counties are required to establish a baseline to monitor VSP activities and implementation, stewardship activities, and the effects on critical areas and agriculture relevant to the benchmarks developed for the watershed.  Creating maps that can be queried, using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, to allow analysis of the data is very useful in accomplishing this task. Therefore, we have provided links below to available digital data that can be used to create the maps for the three critical areas listed above.

The statutory date for identifying the baseline is July 22, 2011 and not all data are available in that year. VSP counties will likely be using the best available data to establish a baseline.

Some counties have limited GIS capabilities. The Washington Department of Agriculture may be able to assist counties by creating GIS maps displaying the intersection of agricultural lands, streams and other waterbodies (hydrography), and wetlands. To request the creation of GIS maps, contact Perry Beale at the Washington Department of Agriculture at or 360-951-9098.

It is important to recognize that each dataset has specific limitations in regard to accuracy and use. Therefore, please read the limitations described for each data set to understand their deficiencies before using the data. We recommend you periodically check this web site for updates that we make as the VSP counties planning process proceeds.    

> Wetlands Resources

> Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas Resources

> Frequently Flooded Areas Resources

Clean Water Standards

Our agency’s work to achieve clean water and a strong agricultural economy can be complemented by the new Voluntary Stewardship Program.  Ecology has the responsibility to ensure that Washington’s waters meet standards that support beneficial uses for people, fish and wildlife.  The federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Pollution Control Act provide a backstop for the voluntary stewardship framework. Under state law, landowners have a responsibility to prevent pollution from being discharged to state waters. Our goal is to collaborate with landowners to find ways to meet those water quality requirements, and if necessary, help landowners make changes that fully protect water quality.  While Ecology has enforcement authority to protect water quality, we work hard to help landowners take advantage of available technical assistance, and financial incentives. 

Additionally, Ecology can identify clean water plans (also called Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that have been prepared for specific waterbodies or watersheds that should be considered during VSP development. These plans and their associated studies can help inform VSP work groups as they work to develop plans to protect and restore critical areas. 

> Clean Water Standards Resources

Shoreline Management

Ecology also oversees the Shoreline Management Act (SMA).  Many floodplain areas where agricultural activities and critical areas intersect are Shorelines of the State as defined by the SMA. 

In recent years, counties and cities across the state have completed or are completing updates of their Shoreline Master Programs. Data and maps developed for these SMP updates may be useful resources for a VSP. 

VSPs can complement Shoreline Master Programs in achieving objectives for protecting and sustaining shoreline uses.  Factors include the following:

  • For existing agriculture, the SMA relies on non-regulatory measures. The statute does not allow county Shoreline Master Programs to require modification of or limit existing agricultural activities on agricultural lands (RCW 90.58.065(1)). 
  • The Shoreline Master Programs applies to agriculture when new land is brought into production (relatively rare), or when a new development is added (WAC 173-26-241(3)(a).   For example, a new barn within Shoreline jurisdiction may require a Shoreline permit.
  • As a VSP is a voluntary program, there is no need to incorporate a recommended VSP work plan into the local Shoreline Master Program. The VSP should apply wherever agriculture and critical areas exist, regardless of whether this is inside or outside of Shoreline jurisdiction. 

> Shoreline Management Resources

Other Resources

Other information resources in Ecology or other agencies may be helpful when planning and implementing VSP in participating counties. These include LIDAR (WDNR) and High Resolution Change Detection (WDFW).

> Other VSP Planning and Mapping Resources

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