Wetlands: Nature's Sponges, Nurseries, and Water Filters

Look around. More likely than not, there is a wetland near where you live, work, or play. According to a 1990 report to Congress, wetlands cover approximately 938,000 acres in Washington State, or about 2 percent of the state's total land. Since the 1780s, Washington State has lost 31% of its wetland areas, from 1.35 million acres to 938,000 acres. Wetlands are critical to the overall health of our watersheds. Because of their key role in watershed health, the Department of Ecology is charged with protecting, restoring, and managing our state's remaining wetland resources.

Wetland functions include many that are important to people, including:

  • Flood control
  • Ground water recharge
  • Water filtration and purification
  • Erosion control
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Recreation
  • Research and education
  • Regional economic vitality

The functions that an individual wetland performs depend on its location, surrounding topography, subsurface geology, amount and duration of water, and the types of plants present.  While each wetland may not perform all functions, the cumulative value of all wetlands in a watershed makes each important. (Learn more about wetland functions and values.)

Ecology's Role in Protecting, Restoring, and Managing Wetlands

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. Wetland specialists in the regions review applications for projects that have the potential to impact wetlands and other "waters of the state."

Ecology provides technical assistance to local governments under the Growth Management Act. This includes assistance in developing comprehensive plan policies and development regulations, and in implementing local wetland regulations.

Ecology views regulations as only one tool to protect wetlands. Along with regulations there are many non-regulatory opportunities to conserve wetland resources. Comprehensive wetlands protection includes voluntary wetland stewardship actions, taken by landowners and local communities, to actively preserve, restore, and enhance existing wetlands.

Local governments, consultants, developers and landowners can find wetland resources and guidance documents by using the side bar to the left. If you have a specific question, contact a wetland specialist (contacts are organized by topic and region).

To receive updated information on Ecology's wetland-related projects sign on to our listserv.





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