Reflecting on World Water Day and protecting Washington’s freshwater resources

Today we celebrate World Water Day with a focus on the vital role clean freshwater plays in maintaining the health and peace of our planet, our nation, and the state of Washington. The day also affords us the opportunity to highlight how Ecology helps protect and manage Washington’s freshwater wetlands, streams and rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and underground sources of water, also called groundwater.

Freshwater critical for people, farms, and fish

In our state, abundant, clean water is crucial for people, farms, and fish, especially salmon. Washington has 62 distinct river drainage basins – or watersheds – that help channel rainfall and snow melt to underground aquifers as well as hundreds of surface water creeks, streams, and rivers that eventually drain to other water bodies including reservoirs and lakes, larger river systems, Puget Sound, and the Pacific Ocean.

Flowing Chehalis River creating a pool at Rainbow Falls
Managing our water supplies

We manage the quantity of the state's water supplies to meet the needs of people and the natural environment, in partnership with Washington communities. Water availability is increasingly limited in Washington due to the pressures of warming temperatures spurred by climate change on snowpack and declining aquifers. We are committed to meeting current and future water needs to secure a healthy environment for generations to come.

Office of Columbia River

Our Office of Columbia River, for instance, is focused on water supply and environmental enhancement projects to help to ease water conflicts in Eastern Washington. We're responding to decades of competition for water that stymied new development and threatened several fish species listed as endangered in the Columbia River Basin, the state’s largest watershed.

Keeping Washington waters clean and healthy

Our mission is to keep all of our Washington waters clean. State and federal standards for groundwater and surface water help protect — and allow us to regulate – the quality of water in Washington by setting pollution limits. Water quality standards are the backbone of our regulations and describe how clean lakes, rivers, and groundwater need to be for the health of people and other species, and to control pollution.

Protecting, managing state shorelines and wetlands

Wetland with emerging indicator plants
We also help protect and manage development along thousands of miles of shoreline  – the places where land and water meet  – and help safeguard about 930,000 acres of wetlands across the state.





Washington’s wetlands are dynamic systems that experience cycles of wet and dry phases on seasonal, annual, and decadal scales. They serve as “nature’s kidneys” because they help:

  • Filter pollutants
  • Slow and store stormwater runoff and snow melt
  • Recharge groundwater aquifers
  • Support habitat for different native and culturally significant plant and animal species.

Although a May 2023 U.S. Supreme Court decision has affected how federal agencies review and permit impacts on wetlands, the state’s Water Pollution Control Act of 1945 — along with other state laws — has always provided greater protections for these water bodies than federal regulations.

Crucial partnerships

Ecology alone, however, can’t protect and manage our freshwater resources. We work in close partnership with cities and counties, Tribal governments, utilities, conservation, irrigation and flood districts, ports, farmers and ranchers, factories and small businesses, educational institutions, environmental and nonprofit organizations, other state agencies, and the federal government.

Office of Chehalis Basin

Ecology’s Office of Chehalis Basin works with the appointed Chehalis Basin Board to address the challenges of degraded habitat and extreme flooding in the Chehalis River Basin, the state’s second-largest river drainage system. The basin-wide strategy involves an array of local, Tribal, nonprofit and state partners who have used $156 million in state funding to undertake near- and long-term actions as well as small- and large-scale projects designed to reduce flood-related damage and restore aquatic life, especially salmon and steelhead, in the basin.

Field crew putting down material for Floodplains by Design project
Floodplains by Design

We also work with closely with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and American Rivers on community-based solutions to re-establish floodplain functions in Washington’s major river corridors. Since our innovative Floodplains by Design program was launched in 2013, the Washington Legislature has provided $283 million to support 57 floodplain projects to reduce flood risks in 18 counties.

Floodplains by Design projects often undo past practices intended to prevent flooding, by creating places where flooding can happen, by design. While this can seem counterintuitive, it is a proven approach for reducing major flooding and property damage downstream.

To date, Floodplains by Design projects have helped reconnect 11,374 acres of floodplain, reduced flood risk in 85 communities, restored, protected, or improved 132 river miles, and improved 20,367 acres of working lands in Washington. The program has also helped create 7,184 jobs.