Washington State Wetland Rating Systems
The wetlands in Washington State differ widely in their functions and values. Some wetland types are common, while others are rare. Some are heavily disturbed while others are still relatively undisturbed. All, however, provide some functions and resources that are valued. These may be ecological, economic, recreational, or aesthetic. Managers, planners, and citizens need tools to understand the resource value of individual wetlands in order to protect them effectively.
The wetland rating systems were designed to differentiate between wetlands in western and eastern Washington. They categorize wetlands into four categories based on their sensitivity to disturbance, their rarity, our ability to replace them, and the functions they provide. The rating system, however, does not replace a full assessment of wetland functions that may be necessary to plan and monitor a project of compensatory mitigation.
The “rating” categories are intended to be used as the basis for developing standards for protecting and managing the wetlands to reduce further loss of their value as a resource. Some decisions that can be made based on the rating include the width of buffers needed to protect the wetland from adjacent development, the amount of mitigation needed to compensate for impacts to the wetland, and permitted uses in the wetland. The Department of Ecology has developed recommendations for such protective standards and these are available in volume 2 of the "Best Available Science" report.
The rating systems are primarily intended for use with vegetated, freshwater, wetlands as identified using the federal wetland delineation manual (PDF) and applicable regional supplements (Chapter 173-22-035 WAC). It also categorizes estuarine wetlands but does not characterize their functions. The rating systems do not categorize or characterize streambeds, riparian areas, and other valuable aquatic resources.
2014 Updates to the Washington State Wetland Rating Systems
Ecology published the 2014 updates to the wetland rating systems for eastern and western Washington at the end of June. At that time, we stated that the 2014 rating systems were effective upon publication. Therefore, local governments whose Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) required the use of the most recent version of the rating system(s) would in effect be requiring use of the 2014 updates immediately. We have since learned that this approach is causing difficulties for many local governments, because some jurisdictions will need to update their code language on wetland buffers in order to incorporate the updated habitat scores associated with the 2014 rating systems. In addition, we discovered that several corrections to the 2014 rating systems are necessary.
As a result, we have changed the effective date of the 2014 rating systems to January 1, 2015.
We expect to have the corrected rating systems posted by mid-September (with a new date and publication numbers). Users will then have a chance to get familiar with the updates and to attend training. Also, local governments will have some time to determine and address how the updates may affect parts of their CAO. We will send an email to Ecology's wetlands information email listserv when the corrected versions are posted. In the meantime, please use the annotated versions of the 2004 wetland rating systems, which can be found below.
The January 1, 2015, effective date means that if you rate a wetland on or after that date, you will be required to use the 2014 updates for projects needing Ecology authorization. An applicant applying for a local permit will need to consult with that specific local government if its CAO requires the use of the rating system. If a CAO contains the language “2004 rating system or as revised,” it is likely that an applicant will need to use the 2014 updates, as of January 1, 2015, to address local government requirements.
Some local jurisdictions may have language in their CAO that requires the use of the 2004 rating systems regardless of whether updates exist. The 2004 versions will, therefore, also remain available on this webpage.
Annotated Versions of the 2004 Rating Systems and Forms
The Rating System and the Credit/Debit Method
The Rating Systems should not be used to estimate
the changes in the functions of wetlands as a result of impacts or mitigation.
Ecology has developed a separate tool to address this issue called the
Ecology highly recommends that users of this method take the training provided by the Department of Ecology. Ecology offered two one-day classes on the updates in June 2014. Ecology will be offering one-day and two-day classes on the 2014 Wetland Rating System Updates in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015. In order to qualify for the one-day training, you must have already taken the two-day wetland rating class for the 2004 version. All classes will be announced through the Coastal Training Program.
Note: If you have taken the two-day training on the 2004 rating system and the one-day training on the Credit/Debit Method, Ecology will consider you to be trained in the updated rating systems. The new questions in the updates are the same as in the Credit/Debit Method.
For more information, contact:
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