Applying watershed characterization to planning

We develop and provide watershed characterization information to help inform local planning processes. This page provides links to examples of how land use planners and resource managers have used watershed characterization to develop watershed-based plans. We also outline the purpose and benefits of watershed characterization.  

Watershed data helps inform local planning processes

Land use planning and permit decisions usually incorporate information gathered at the site but not the watershed as a whole. This means decisions are rarely informed by an understanding of ecosystem processes or watershed conditions. Over the long term this can result in cumulative impacts that significantly affect the health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

The characterization results can be used to help:

  • Achieve a more functional and resilient natural watershed ecosystem.
  • Identify and resolve areas of conflict between proposed land use actions and protection of watershed resources.
  • Identify the root cause of watershed issues and develop appropriate solutions.
  • Sustain and restore aquatic resources.
  • Establish a common approach to coordinate planning efforts between jurisdictions, utilities, and other entities managing or using natural resource areas.
  • Involve the community in developing a green infrastructure plan including stormwater retrofit plans.
  • Promote the integration of the state Growth Management Act (GMA) and state Shoreline Management Act (SMA).
  • Support Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) updates by:
    • Establishing a framework for characterizing landscape processes and developing a restoration plan as required under the SMA.
    • Promoting "no net loss" of shoreline and wetland function.
  • Provides comprehensive long-term protection of aquatic resources and maintenance of quality of life.
  • Guides future development (e.g. “green infrastructure” ) to:
    • Identify and avoid development patterns that cause problems difficult for a community to correct in the future.
    • Provide background information necessary for completing SMP and comprehensive plan updates, including Critical Areas Ordinances.
    • Reduce total development costs.
  • Streamlines permitting because it can:
    • Provide a predictable permitting environment for developers.
    • Reduce permit review, project implementation and enforcement time.
    • Provide more local control and less state overview.
  • Provides flexibility to meet the needs of the community.

Watershed characterization examples

See how others have applied watershed characterization in land use planning.