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Protecting Hanford's natural resources

As cleanup at Hanford continues, we're able to focus on future uses of the site. This includes protecting Hanford's ecological and cultural heritage, and restoring habitat for many rare plants and animals that live there.

The current Hanford site covers 580 square-miles of land bordered on the north and east by the Columbia River, featuring:

  • a large contiguous shrub-steppe ecosystem.
  • the largest Chinook salmon spawning area.
  • the longest free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam.
  • sites with unique and irreplaceable historic, tribal, cultural, and scientific heritage.

Hanford is considered a critical reservoir of biodiversity

Since most of the area around the Hanford site has been converted to farms, Hanford is important to many unique plants and animals of the Columbia Basin, including:

  • 28 rare plants that are listed as endangered or threatened
  • 15 species of small mammals and 38 species of birds that might become endangered
  • 1,500+ species of insects, several of which are not found anywhere else in the world
Did you know: tumbleweed is not native to the Tri-Cities? Learn about our native plants.

Restoring natural resources

In addition to maintaining resources that weren't damaged during the production years at Hanford, cleanup activities must consider requirements for restoring habitat. In some cases, cleanup plans call for deliberate habitat restoration. Work may involve intentionally re-seeding or planting native plants to speed the establishment of healthy habitat for wildlife.

We work with the U.S. Dept. of Energy and EPA to find the best, most cost-effective methods of cleaning up the environment, and ensure that the cleanup follows the laws under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. While it is a federal law, Washington state is authorized to carry out enforcement. Examples of restoration may include re-seeding an area with native grasses or planting new sagebrush. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are actively involved in growing native plants for use in habitat restoration.

When releases of contaminants are suspected to have led to injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources at Hanford, federal law allows government officials, or Hanford natural resource Trustees, to enter into a defined process.

What is the Assessment process?

The objectives of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process are to:

  • restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources.
  • compensate the public for any loss of services that occurs while natural resources are in an injured state.

U.S. Dept. of the Interior regulations establish a framework and set of procedures for the NRDA process. The regulations define three sequential phases:

Phase I - Pre-Assessment

In the initial phase, trustees conduct a review to determine if a formal damage assessment will likely show that natural resources have been affected by the release of hazardous substances.

Phase II - Assessment Phase III - Post-Assessment

Upon completion of draft planning documents, you can participate in the NRDA process. First, Trustees will notify Washington residents 30 days prior to the release of a planning document. Then the documents will be posted on Hanford's NRDA Public Involvement page. Finally, the plans will be available for 30 days for your review and comment.

Damage claims vs. remediation activities

Natural resource damage claims

​Damage claims are focused on restoring injured natural resources to their “baseline” condition, defined as the condition absent the release of contaminants.

Remediation activities

NRDA progress at Hanford

In June 2009, Hanford Trustees completed Phase I, determining that a full assessment was warranted. Phase II began in 2010, and included development of the Injury Assessment Plan and related products; four expert panels; recommendations for initial studies/resource review reports; preliminary thresholds and tests; and public involvement materials. The Injury Assessment Plan was completed in January 2013 after public review and comment.

Three pelicans soar over Hanford site.
Current work focuses on the implementation of more comprehensive injury studies identified in Phase II planning documents. In addition to our restoration and NRDA work, the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources independently reviews cultural resources for projects on state-owned aquatic lands. They developed a summary paper on cultural resources that explains what cultural resources are and who is responsible for review and compliance.