Large areas of Eastern Washington have been converted to agriculture and are irrigated. Some agricultural areas in Western Washington are also irrigated. Many wetlands have formed adjacent to irrigation conveyance systems and in low-lying areas where irrigation occurs.
Learn how wetlands in irrigated areas are regulated under state law.
Defining wetlands in areas that are irrigated
We regulate wetlands in Washington. Our regulatory authority is based in two principal statutes:
Both laws define “wetlands” and “artificial” wetlands, such as irrigation ditches and canals. The definition in both laws states that an “artificial” wetland must be both “intentionally created,” and created in an upland area.
A wetland that may be influenced by irrigation is considered a wetland under the state definition and regulated accordingly. However, this does not mean that irrigation-influenced wetlands cannot be filled; it means that one must obtain state approval to do so.
Distinguishing wetlands and artificial wetlands
In the field, it is often difficult to differentiate between wetlands and artificial wetlands. This is because it's difficult to determine whether the wetland was intentionally created and whether it occurred in an upland area or in an already existing wetland.
It can be particularly difficult to make these distinctions because it's hard to determine the relative influence of natural water sources like precipitation, snow melt, and groundwater as opposed to regional and site-specific irrigation practices.
How we regulate irrigation-influenced wetlands
Our focus sheet on irrigation-influenced wetlands explains how we address a wide range of situations where wetlands are influenced by human activities. The focus sheet does not address federal or local laws.