Wetland regulation & permitting resources

Two state laws, the state Water Pollution Control Act and the Shoreline Management Act, give us the authority to regulate wetlands. We also use the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process to identify potential wetland-related concerns early in the permitting process.

Our regional wetland staff review applications for projects that have the potential to impact wetlands and other "waters of the state." Applicants who propose altering aquatic resources must go through mitigation sequencing to avoid and minimize impacts before determining whether compensatory mitigation is appropriate and a permit is required.

We also administer Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. We approve, condition, or deny proposed projects in water of the U.S., including wetlands, to ensure they meet state water quality standards. Any actions necessary to protect water quality are then included as conditions in the 401 water quality certification.

In addition, we provide 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 regulations.

Regulation of specific wetland types

State laws that protect wetlands are broader than the federal regulations. The state can establish protocols for managing wetlands that fall outside of federal jurisdiction. For example, impacts to wetlands outside of federal jurisdiction, such as isolated wetlands, are authorized through administrative orders under the State Water Pollution Control Act.

Local wetland regulations

In general, the state emphasizes a local approach to wetland protection and regulation. Counties and municipalities are authorized and required by the Growth Management Act (GMA) to regulate wetlands within their jurisdictions, which is typically accomplished through adoption of a critical areas ordinance. We play an advisory role by providing comments during critical areas ordinance (CAO) updates and by offering technical assistance.

  • Growth Management Act (GMA) technical assistance - We provide 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.
  • Critical areas ordinance (CAO) guidance - Our CAO guidance describes the important topics to be addressed in the wetlands section of your CAO. It includes recommendations for wetland protection based on best available science. 
  • Department of Commerce's Growth Management Services - This service assists and guides local governments, state agencies, and others to manage growth and development in a manner that is consistent with the Growth Management Act.

Permitting resources

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