Shoreline laws and rules

Private and public activities along Washington's shorelines are governed by a number of laws passed by the Washington Legislature and rules written by state agencies. This page provides links to laws and rules applicable to shoreline activities.

Shoreline Management Act (SMA)

The state Shoreline Management Act, put in effect in 1972, establishes a state-local partnership for managing, accessing, and protecting Washington’s shorelines. The law requires local governments to prepare locally tailored policies and regulations for managing shoreline use in their jurisdictions. These are called Shoreline Master Programs, or SMPs. We work in partnership with local governments and make sure local SMPs comply with state laws and rules.

Shoreline Master Program guidelines

Our Shoreline Master Program guidelines are the state rules that guide us and local governments in writing, adopting, and implementing local SMPs. They translate the broad policies of the state Shoreline Management Act into standards for regulating shoreline uses.

In addition to the SMP guidelines, there are a number of other applicable state rules under the Shoreline Management Act:

Shorelines Hearings Board (SHB)

The state Shorelines Hearings Board (SHB) is the independent, quasi-judicial agency that hears appeals of local shoreline permit decisions and shoreline penalties we issue jointly with, or separately from, our local government partners. You can search SHB cases and decisions on their site.

The state Environmental & Land Use Hearings Office is an independent umbrella administrative agency made up of the SHB and two other boards that hear appeals of certain land use and environmental decisions in Washington. Each board operates independent of one another, hearing appeals and deciding cases within their separate areas of expertise and jurisdiction. 

Aquatic Lands Act

Coastal Zone Management Act

The federal Coastal Zone Management Act is designed to address protection and development in coastal areas. We administer Washington’s Coastal Zone Management Program which meets the broader national interests of protecting, restoring, and responsibly developing the state's coastal zone. The program applies to the 15 coastal counties, extends seaward three nautical miles into the ocean, and does not apply to federal and tribal lands. Federal actions typically are reviewed for consistency with the state's program.

Floods and floodplain planning

Floodplain management includes corrective and preventive measures to reduce losses to life and property, and to protect floodplain functions. We are the lead state agency for floodplain management. In this role we provide limited emergency flood grants and technical assistance to local communities including FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Growth Management Act (GMA)

The state Growth Management Act (GMA) requires state agencies and local governments to manage Washington’s growth by designating urban growth areas, and identifying and protecting critical areas and resource lands. The law requires local governments prepare comprehensive land use plans and implement them through capital investments and development regulations. 

Background: Growth Management Services 
Background: Growth Management Act Laws and Rules

 Salmon Recovery and Enhancement Acts

State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)

We're responsible for ensuring local governments and state agencies comply with the state's environmental law and related state rules. The law identifies and analyzes environmental impacts from state and local government decisions, and provides opportunities for interested parties to comment on those decisions.

Background: SEPA - Environmental review

Public Trust Doctrine

The Public Trust Doctrine is a legal principle derived from English common law limiting the public and private use of tide and other shorelands to protect the public’s right to access these public waters.

Watershed Planning


Wetlands are critical to the overall health of watersheds by providing flood control, groundwater recharge, and providing wildlife habitat. Wetlands cover approximately 938,000 acres in Washington. Under state and federal law, we provide guidance and technical assistance to local governments and landowners. We also form public-private partnerships to ensure wetland resources fulfill their key role in watershed health.

Background: Wetlands

Additional Information

Washington Attorney General's Office

State case law 

Legal Research Sites