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Mitigation That Works Initiative


In Washington State, we spend millions of dollars every year to mitigate the unavoidable adverse effects to important habitats – such as wetlands and shorelines – stemming from development. Yet, studies show that our wetland mitigation efforts are successful only about 50 percent of the time. This is a far cry from the national and state goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. It is likely that other environmental mitigation is equally unsuccessful. This is an unacceptable situation.

Healthy wetlands = healthy economy

Healthy wetlands and streams are essential to maintain and restore Washington waters, including Puget Sound, and keep our economy vibrant. Wetlands filter drinking water, hold flood waters, recharge groundwater, and provide fish and wildlife habitat and recreation. The more we study wetlands, the more we understand their economic value. For example, flood managers, economists, and water suppliers are finding it costs less to maintain existing wetlands than invest in human-engineered solutions to purify our water and protect us from floods. Wetland mitigation returns real economic benefits to our communities. An independent study found fresh water wetlands in the Puget Sound region alone could be worth more than $10 billion to Washington’s economy. A copy of the report can be found at http://www.eartheconomics.org/.

Permitting coordination crucial

Numerous regulatory agencies are involved in permitting wetland mitigation. The permitting process can be complex and unpredictable for developers. There is an obvious need for enhanced coordination, reduced overlap in the review process, and consistent review standards and permit conditions for proposed mitigation projects. In addition, Washington needs a range of mitigation options to adequately protect the variety of natural resources affected by development projects. These resources include wetlands, fish, upland habitats, and endangered species.

"Mitigation that Works" initiative

All these unacceptable circumstances prompted the Department of Ecology to elevate improving state mitigation practices to one of the department’s top priorities on par with Facing Climate Change, Saving Puget Sound, Managing our Water, and Reducing Toxic Threats. Ecology’s goal is to improve mitigation from 50 to 100 percent environmental success – and do it in a way that provides more predictability for permit applicants. We call this “Mitigation that Works.”

Moving forward

We already have made significant progress since 2006. Along with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency, we have published guidance on how to do wetland mitigation right. With support from former Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state legislature, we have a wetland mitigation inspection and compliance program to ensure mitigation requirements are fulfilled.

More tools

The wetland mitigation banking system we are creating in Washington works for the environment. And it provides a predictable option for developers. Alternatives like wetland mitigation banks work because they put successful solutions in place before any mitigation is needed. The tool also demonstrates innovative environmental solutions can go hand in hand with economic prosperity and faster project delivery.

Ecology also is working with a broad group of stakeholders, the Mitigation That Works Forum. Together, we are promoting a mitigation tool box that provides flexibility and choices for agencies and developers, beyond traditional mitigation and wetland banking. For example, in order to sustain and maintain aquatic resources it is necessary to understand the broader physical environment and how it impacts those resources. Using watershed characterization information to inform local government’s land use planning and permitting decisions is a recommended approach. Expanding our tool box will really help to put mitigation where Mother Nature intended – places in our watersheds where mitigation will work.