Wetlands & other waters

Find out how to delineate wetlands and other waters in the project area, document impacts, mitigate for those impacts, and apply for associated permits.

Follow these steps during the scoping phase of your project:

  1. Conduct a reconnaissance survey for wetlands & other waters
  2. Determine who has jurisdiction & permitting needs
  3. Bundle fish passage projects
  4. Research compensatory mitigation options
  5. Coordinate with liaisons

For emergency projects

Follow the procedure for Section 404 compliance for emergency projects (PDF 161KB). For compliance with Section 401, in addition to the above, submit a Pre-filling meeting request to the Department of Ecology Federal Permits Inbox at: ecyrefedpermits@ecy.wa.gov.

This will start the regulatory clock if your project needs 401 coverage. For both section 404 and section 401 requests, please copy the Ecology Liaison: Penny Kelley at pkel461@ecy.wa.gov .

Conduct a reconnaissance survey for wetlands & other waters

Conduct a reconnaissance survey to identify potential wetlands and other waters in the project vicinity. Get the following information from the Project Engineering Office:

  • Project description, purpose, and location
  • Project plan sheets showing all areas of potential effect or proposed project alternatives, and existing features such as roadway and right of way
  • Written right of entry for access to non-Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) property if within the project area

Review background information for the area on our internal GIS Workbench (or other data sources if you don’t have WSDOT credentials) before doing field work:

For small or simple projects, review of background information may provide enough information for reconnaissance without a field visit.

Make a brief, informal field visit to qualitatively identify potential wetlands and other waters. Create a sketch map to document estimated location of waters. Follow our Sensitive areas naming conventions (PDF 126KB) to label wetlands and other waters on the sketches. If needed, estimate wetland categories by following Ecology’s Wetland Rating Systems webpage.

Prepare an email or memo to summarize your findings. “Right-size” the documentation to fit the needs of your project. For more complicated projects, the memo may include:

  • Project description, purpose, location – including local jurisdiction.
  • Map of the study area/area of potential affect
  • Methods
  • Approximate wetland boundary and acreage
  • Approximate stream locations
  • Estimated locations of other waters
  • Map or plan sheet showing all identified waters and estimated area
  • Estimated wetland category
  • Stream water type using DNR’s Forest Practices Application Mapping Tool website
  • Estimated buffers required by the local jurisdiction - See the Municipal Research and Services Center website to look up city or county codes.

Share the information with the project team.

Determine who has jurisdiction & permitting needs

Use the data you collected in the wetland reconnaissance survey to determine if the waters are federally regulated to inform future documentation and permit needs.

Federally regulated waters

The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)  - The Corps has jurisdiction of Waters of the US (WOTUS) (Section 404 of the Clean Water Act) and Navigable waters (Section 10 of the Rivers & Harbors Act).  The Corps also manages some projects, like dikes and levees, next to streams. Use the following tools to determine if the Corps has jurisdiction over your project:

  • Corps' limits of Corps Regulatory Jurisdiction website - to determine if the wetlands and other waters in the project area are a Section 404 WOTUS.
  • Corps' lists of Navigable Waters in Washington State on the Streams, Rivers, and Tidal Waters page of the Corps Permit Guidebook – to see if a stream is a Section 10 navigable water according to the Corps.
  •  Corps’ Section 408 website – to determine if there is a Corps project in the project area and to apply for a Section 408 permission.

For Section 404 or 10 waters, use the  Corps' 2021 NWP Summary Chart (PDF 518KB) to determine if the work can be verified under a Nationwide Permit (NWP). Most WSDOT projects fit under NWPs:

Check the terms and conditions linked for each NWP above to make sure that the work:

If the work cannot be permitted under a NWP, you will need to apply for an Individual Permit from the Corps during final design. Prepare a Section 404(b)(1) analysis during preliminary design as part of the permit application.

Use the Stormwater & water quality webpage to determine the Section 401 Water Quality Certification needs.

US Coast Guard (USCG) – Get a Navigability Determination from the USCG for work on transportation structures (culvert, buried structure, bridge, approaches, or abutments) over water:

  • For bridge work - look up the bridge in our internal Bridge Engineering Information System (BEISt). If you do not see a navigability determination from the USCG in the structure details, contact Glenn Waldron, Glenn.Waldron@wsdot.wa.gov, Bridge Office.
  • For culvert work - look up the culvert in our internal Fish Passage Site Management System. If you do not see a navigability determination from the USCG in the attachments for your site, contact the Multiagency Permit Program with the Environmental Services Office at MAPP@wsdot.wa.gov .

Keep a copy of the navigability determination letter from the USCG with your other work records. Note the date of the letter in your environmental document. Contact Glenn Waldron, Glenn.Waldron@wsdot.wa.gov, for next steps if the letter indicates that the waterbody is navigable and that a permit or additional coordination is needed. If you need a bridge permit, use the Stormwater & water quality webpage to determine the Section 401 Water Quality Certification needs.

Non-federally regulated waters

If the water is not federally regulated by the Corps under Section 404 or 10, Ecology likely has jurisdiction as a water of the state. If you are not sure if Ecology would regulate the wetland or other water, contact the Ecology Liaisons.

If your project will work in non-federally regulated waters, you will need to apply for an Administrative Order (AO) from Ecology during final design. To get the AO, request an Approved Jurisdictional Determination from the Corps during preliminary design, after you complete your wetland delineation.

Coastal zones

If the project is in one of the 15 coastal counties and requires one of the federal licenses or permits listed for Washington State on the  National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s State Federal Consistency list website, you will need a Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Act Consistency Determination in final design.

If the work only needs a Section 404 Nationwide Permit, Regional Conditions for Seattle District (PDF 1.5MB) or the NWP terms and conditions to see if you need to apply for CZM review or if it’s programmatically covered. 


Determine if your work is in an area that triggers a Shoreline Permit:

  • Within 200 feet of a shoreline of statewide significance – Check the local agency map of Shoreline areas or our internal GIS Workbench.
  • Listed under a local shoreline master plan or ordinance - Check the local agency plans and codes.

If your project qualifies for a Fish Habitat Enhancement (FHEP) Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA), do not apply for a shoreline permit or approval. If your fish passage project does not qualify for an FHEP HPA, you do not need a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit but you may need one of the other permits and approvals listed below. Use the Fish webpage to determine if your project qualifies for an FHEP HPA.

The optional shoreline process under RCW 90.58.355(3) allows WSDOT to perform certain maintenance, repair, safety, and replacement work without applying for a shoreline permit or approval. Check RCW 90.58.356 to determine if your project meets the criteria for this process. If the project does not require a permit and will cost more than $1 million to plan and design, send written notification of the project prior to construction to all:

  • Agencies, federal and state, with jurisdiction in the area, including the Ecology Regional Planner.
  • Agencies with facilities or services that may be impacted by the project, including utility companies, transit systems, and schools.
  • Adjacent property owners within 300 feet of the shoreline jurisdiction area.

If there are many property owners or if the local agency’s permit process is complex, consider applying for a shoreline permit or approval instead.

If your project doesn’t meet the criteria for an optional shoreline process, apply for a shorelines permit or approval during final design.  Check the local agency’s shoreline management program (SMP) and codes to determine which type of Shoreline Permit you may need:

  • Substantial Development Permit – work is consistent with the local agency’s shoreline master program (SMP).
  • Conditional Use Permit – proposed work is listed as a conditional use or is not addressed in the SMP.
  • Variance – Work doesn’t fit the development regulations in the SMP. Ecology must review and approve all variances.
  • Letter of exemption – proposed work within shoreline jurisdiction that qualifies for exemptions under RCW 90.58 or the local Shoreline Master Program that does not fit under the optional shoreline process.

Bundle fish passage projects

Consider bundling (submitting multiple projects in one application) fish passage projects if they meet all the following criteria to help expedite permit decisions:

  • On the same creek, are tributaries on the same creek, or are nearby creeks feeding the same river
  • In the same WRIA and/or the same watershed
  • Have similar site or construction conditions
  • Meet stream simulation/bridge criteria design
  • Designed and ready for permitting application at the same time
  • Are not politically sensitive, very complex or includes an unusual or overly complex site or construction conditions

Always submit a pre-filing meeting request with the bundle submission in case projects within require an individual WQC. Please note that if projects within the bundle require individual WQCs, each required project will need to submit a separate WQC request form. 

If you think your projects qualify for bundling, you must coordinate with the liaisons during preliminary design. 

Research compensatory mitigation options

If unavoidable impacts will occur, consider compensatory mitigation options in this order:

1. WSDOT mitigation credits - Determine if the project is within the service area of a WSDOT-owned mitigation bank, advance compensatory mitigation site (compensation site), or a nearby concurrent compensation site with excess credit. Find our mitigation bank service areas on our internal GIS Workbench. Contact a headquarters or region specialist to determine if credits are available and appropriate for the potential project impacts.

2. Third-party mitigation credits - Determine if the project is in a third-party mitigation bank or in-lieu fee service area. Refer to Ecology’s Wetland mitigation resources webpage for availability of third-party mitigation bank or in-lieu fee programs.

Contact the bank or in-lieu fee sponsor directly to determine available credits. See the bank or in-lieu fee sponsor website for details related to requirements for credit use. Wait until permits have been approved before you purchase credits.

3. Create a new WSDOT compensatory mitigation site - Design an advance or concurrent compensatory mitigation site. See Ecology’s Wetland mitigation banking webpage  for how to become a bank sponsor. See the 2012 Interagency Regulatory Guide: Advance Permittee-Responsible Mitigation  on Ecology's webpage for how to develop an advance compensatory mitigation site. To construct a new compensatory mitigation site concurrently with the project, initiate your site selection process after you identify preliminary compensatory mitigation requirements in preliminary design.

Coordinate with liaisons

You may coordinate with the Corps and Ecology Liaisons if you need help scoping the permitting needs. For example, to support Planning and Environmental Linkage studies, if you aren’t sure if the work fits a NWP, or there aren’t mitigation options in your project area and you intend to construct a new compensation site. Find instructions for how to coordinate with the liaisons on the preliminary design tab.

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