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. Notify the Corps about emergency projects
  2. Notify Ecology about emergency projects
  3. Conduct a reconnaissance survey for wetlands & other waters
  4. Determine who has jurisdiction & permitting needs
  5. Bundle fish passage projects
  6. Research compensatory mitigation options
  7. Coordinate with liaisons

Notify the Corps about emergency projects

Follow these instructions for declared emergency projects that involve work in waters under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jurisdiction. 

The Corps defines emergencies in 33 CFR 325.2(e)(4) as, " a situation which would result in an unacceptable hazard to life, a significant loss of property or an immediate, unforeseen, and significant economic hardship if corrective action requiring a permit is not undertaken within a time period less than the normal time needed to process the application under standard procedures."

Check with the Multi-Agency Permit Program manager if you think the work may be exempt from Section 404 permit requirements. 

If the work can be covered under a non-reporting Nationwide Permit (i.e. a Pre-Construction Notification/Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application isn't needed), you don't need to notify the Corps of the project. A project may be non-reporting if there is no effect for Endangered Species Act/Essential Fish Habitat, and 106. Document it for your records. 

Call a Corps project manager:

If there is no answer, leave a message and follow up with an email to ESOPermittingLiaisons@wsdot.wa.gov

If neither project manager answers the phone and work must start immediately, call a Corps Chief:

  • Matt Bennett- Corps Seattle District Section Chief, During business hours - (206) 446-8067
  • Todd Tillinger- Corps Seattle District Regulatory Branch Chief, After hours - (206) 798-4886

Email the Notice of Need for Emergency Work form found on the Corps Emergencies and Emergency Permitting Procedures webpage within 24 hours of calling the Corps to provide the necessary details. 

Attach to the email: 

  • WSDOT's Emergency Declaration, if applicable
  • Photos depicting the emergency if the Corps project manager hasn't received them previously
  • Drawings of the proposed repair

In response, the Corps project managers will:

  • Review the notification information.
  • Send the Services, tribes, and state agencies a request for recommendations to minimize effects from emergency response. This is separate from the notification requirements for WSDOT to the Services and coordination with tribes/state agencies. It is part of the Corps' obligations as a federal agency. 
  • Initiate emergency authorization request to proceed if it meets the Corps definition of an emergency, has been minimized to reduce impact to waters, and meets the conditions of the emergency authorization. 
  • Notify WSDOT via email once authorization is approved. 

If we cannot wait for formal approval from the Corps prior to conducting necessary work, we can minimize legal risks by following this process and striving to keep work to the "minimum necessary to reduce the threat of the emergency situation". Report to Region Environmental staff as soon as possible.

Minimize removal and fill because what you do in an emergency may have to be re-done or undone after the fact. Continue to coordinate while work is occurring. Work that is done prior to authorization may be tracked as an unauthorized activity within the Corps. 

If the Corps authorization requires consultation with National Marine Fisheries service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, please cc: the Corps on your emails to the Services. 

Notify Ecology about emergency projects

Follow these instructions for declared emergency projects that involve work in waters under Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) jurisdiction.

Follow the procedure for Section 404 (Corps) compliance for emergency projects above. For compliance with Section 401, in addition to the above, submit a Pre-Filling Meeting Request form found on Ecology's Publications and Forms webpage 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 Penny.Kelley@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 that may be impacted 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 or state 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:

Consult the Corps Seattle District User Guide for the terms and conditions for each NWP above to make sure that the work:

  • Fits the approved activities for the NWP. 
  • Meets all the National General Conditions. 
  • Meets all the Regional Conditions.

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 404(b)(1) template (DOCX 56KB).

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 Multi-Agency Permit Program (MAPP) Coordinator in 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.

State regulated waters

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

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 apply for an AO, contact the MAPP at MAPP@wsdot.wa.gov, 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, check the 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. Ecology must review and approve all shoreline conditional use permits.
  • 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 WAC 173-27-040 or the local Shoreline Master Program that does not fit under the optional shoreline process.

Bundle fish passage projects

You can bundle fish passage projects together for permit submittal if it increases efficiency for WSDOT. Bundling no longer speeds permit timelines once the application is submitted to the Corps. The Corps will assign a project number to each site in the bundle. Each site will be considered a separate project. Writing one application form (PCN) is more efficient if all the sites meet all the following criteria:

  • They are on the same creek, are tributaries on the same creek, or are nearby creeks feeding the same river.
  • They are the same WRIA and/or the same watershed.
  • They have similar site or construction conditions.
  • They meet stream simulation/bridge criteria design.
  • They are designed and ready for permitting application at the same time.
  • They are not politically sensitive, very complex or include an unusual or overly complex site or construction conditions.

Always submit an Ecology Pre-Filing Meeting Request form, found on Ecology's Publications and Forms webpage, 30 days before the bundle submission in case sites within the bundle require an individual Water Quality Certification (WQC). You will need to submit a separate WQC form for each site within the bundle that requires an individual WQC. 

If you think your projects qualify for bundling, you must coordinate with the permitting liaisons at ESOPermittingLiaisons@wsdot.wa.gov 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 banking 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 resources webpage for guidance on mitigation sequencing and site selection. 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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