Wetland Guidance for Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) Updates

Ecology has replaced our guidance for jurisdictions in the process of updating their critical areas ordinances (CAOs).  The new guidance document, called Wetland Guidance for CAO Updates, replaces Wetlands & CAO Updates: Guidance for Small Cities.  It is based on Ecology's 2005 best available science documents.  

This guidance describes the important topics that should be addressed in the wetlands section of your CAO. It includes recommendations for wetland protection based on “best available science” (BAS). The guidance also includes a sample CAO chapter for wetlands that incorporates these recommendations into a format similar to that found in many local CAOs and contains definitions that are commonly used in wetlands regulations.

This new publication, for the most part, contains much of the same content as the Guidance for Small Cities. Over the last few years, it became obvious that the information in that document could apply to all cities and counties, not just small cities. However, for counties and larger cities there are certain aspects of the buffer tables that might be too restrictive. Factors to consider are the jurisdiction’s rate of growth, the nature and intensity of land uses in the jurisdiction, the wetland resources at risk, and the ability of the jurisdiction to implement its CAO. Check with Ecology wetland staff for more information about using this guidance in your particular jurisdiction.

Changes addressed in the 2016 guidance

  • Reference to the updated 2014 wetland rating system
  • Updated definitions based on the updated 2014 wetland rating system
  • Buffer tables that include habitat scores from the updated 2014 wetland rating system
  • Addition of buffer table to be used if minimizing measures are not used
  • Emphasis on the requirement to provide wildlife corridors where possible in exchange for buffer reduction
  • Guidance on using wetlands for stormwater management facilities
  • Revisions to exemptions for small wetlands
  • Recommended language addressing agricultural activities in non-VSP jurisdictions
  • Addition of recent mitigation documents and guidance
  • Corrected links to resource documents and web pages.

This document revises the wetland-specific provisions in the Department of Commerce's Critical Areas Assistance Handbook. For assistance with other aspects of your critical areas ordinance update, please contact the Department of Commerce's Growth Management Services.

Download the Guidance

More Information

If you have questions about the guidance or need additional assistance with the wetlands section of your critical areas ordinance update, please contact Donna Bunten at donna.bunten@ecy.wa.gov or 360-407-7172 or contact the wetland specialist for your area.

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