Floodplains & Estuaries

Protect and restore floodplains and estuaries (including associated riparian habitats) by advancing integrated river basin management planning policies and regulations and accelerating funding and implementation of reach-scale plans and projects.
Floodplains and estuaries are critical habitats linking the land and sea—creating and supporting a more diverse landscape that provides critical habitat for the health, growth, and survival of Pacific salmon and steelhead, flood damage, sea level rise, and storm surge mitigation, improved water quality, vital habitat for a suite of flora and fauna, recreational opportunities, and economically valuable farmlands.

Estuaries, a unique environment where freshwater mixes with salt water and sediments collect, provide important feeding and resting habitat for young salmon, migratory birds, and many other species that cannot find these unique benefits in any other place in our landscape. Tidal wetland habitat also contributes to the Puget Sound ecosystem through the production of plant material, which fuels a rich food web as it decays.

These highly valuable areas also benefit people: from supporting the lives and cultural practices of tribal nations since time immemorial to providing some of the most fertile agricultural lands in the region. Seventy-five percent of river delta tidal wetlands have been lost or degraded in Puget Sound. The 17 major rivers of Puget Sound have lost or experienced a reduction in over 60 percent of their floodplain function in the last 100 years, predominantly in response to increased population growth and development.

Communities across Puget Sound are envisioning and implementing new ways of managing floodplains. Integrated floodplain management is a form of planning, action, and management where partners agree on a set of shared visions, strategies, and actions to improve floodplain health. Instead of competing against one another for limited resources, partners work together to pursue diverse funding opportunities and develop a suite of integrated projects that collectively move stakeholders across the watershed closer to achieving their goals.

River-basin planning is a collaborative approach where residents and stakeholders impacted by an issue help create solutions for their community. This participation results in a strategy that proposes coordinated actions and projects that benefit local agricultural operations, fish habitat, and flood risk reduction.

In gw?dzadad (pronounced gwa-zah-did), “Teaching of Our Ancestors”, tribal nations identified floodplains as one of five key targets in their Tribal Habitat Strategy, focusing efforts on protecting, restoring, and enhancing hydrological and geomorphic connectivity between rivers and their floodplains and deltas for a recovered future. Please see the Tribal Habitat Strategy story map for more information.

Implementing the Floodplains and Estuaries, Chinook, and other, Implementation Strategies supports the success of this strategy.
  • Protect habitat from conversion, fragmentation
  • Remove barriers to flow
  • Restore habitat-forming processes

Increase the number and accelerate implementation of habitat acquisition and restoration projects as prioritized in salmon and watershed recovery plans. (ID #12)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Enhance funding for and capacity of landowners, tribal governments, local governments, and nongovernmental organizations to acquire, restore, and manage floodplain and estuarine properties;
  • Remove or set back barriers to pocket estuary function;
  • Work with landowners to allow estuarine connectivity during key timeframes for salmon;
  • Purchase key properties (i.e., acquisition) that allow for permanent restoration and protection of habitat and connectivity;
  • Improve the function of tide gates, or remove them altogether, where appropriate, to improve water quality and increase habitat complexity;
  • Remove culverts and other barriers to connectivity to improve and maintain streamflow functions within floodplains and their associated estuaries;
  • Develop approaches to more rapidly access funding when properties become available;

Incorporate the economic risks and costs of development into land use planning in floodplain and estuary habitats. (ID #18)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Incorporate current and predicted climate changes and sea level rise into hazard risk tolerance and cost subsidy data and results to improve planning and permitting decisions in an integrated management context;
  • Build the capacity of land use planners to enable the use of risk tolerance and cost subsidy data and results to inform adaptive management of incentive programs and regulatory and permitting decisions;
  • Develop and implement outreach plans to developers, landowners, decision-makers, and other key partners to communicate risk and improve prioritization of land uses and emergency preparedness in flood-prone areas;
  • Ensure statewide mapping information is available and accessible to local partners;
  • Improve river-basin scale planning using risk tolerance and cost subsidy analyses to align habitat protection and restoration with hazard mitigation planning.

Develop and maintain a Puget Sound-wide framework to build public support and political will, develop partnerships, mobilize funding resources, streamline permitting, and support monitoring for integrated floodplain management approaches to enhance outcomes for fish populations, flood risk, and agricultural viability (farm, fish, flood). (ID #19)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Develop a framework for local plans; communicate benefits of integrated management to build public support and political will;
  • Develop a Sound-wide integrated management vision that mobilizes financial resources that incentivize a watershed approach and building of local capacity;
  • Provide capacity and support for a learning network of regional and local practitioners to build opportunities for coordination and shared learning;
  • Develop Sound-wide integrated management goals and metrics to track and communicate progress across watersheds;
  • Integrate federal-level infrastructure planning;
  • Address regulatory and permitting process barriers through Sound-wide forums and the permit streamlining pilot program authorized under ESSHB 1382.

Prioritize, design, and implement reach-scale restoration and protection projects within a river basin or watershed. (ID #20)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Enhance understanding of floodplain and estuarine processes, include future projections, to inform reach- scale project prioritization and design;
  • Develop and implement outreach and education plans to highlight the locally-relevant benefits and challenges of integrated floodplain management;
  • Enable diverse communities to engage in integrated management forums;
  • Consider and address diverse community needs when integrated management forums are identifying restoration and protection priorities;
  • Expand capacity for local partner implementation.

Implement habitat protection and restoration projects that restore or maintain natural nutrient attenuation functions and sediment processes in watersheds, estuaries, and tidal wetlands. (ID #24)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Encourage projects that include natural nitrogen attenuation restoration in sensitive areas;
  • Identify areas for wetland restoration with value for natural nitrogen attenuation;
  • Inform local wetlands protection programs and critical areas ordinances about opportunities for nutrient attenuation;
  • Expand knowledge of nutrient attenuation project design;
  • Incorporate nitrogen attenuation into Floodplains by Design;
  • Develop and implement regional sediment management plans.

Increase and improve floodplain and estuary regulation implementation, compliance, enforcement, incentives, and communication. (ID #195)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Improve single-family resident sections and improve incentives in the Growth Management Act and Shoreline Management Act;
  • Evaluate and improve implementation of existing regulations;
  • Evaluate the need for statutory and policy changes;
  • Implement compliance monitoring and enforcement programs in place;
  • Cultivate political support for regulatory implementation, compliance, and enforcement.
Implementation Considerations

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing considerations and climate change responses into efforts include:

Human Wellbeing

  • Consider opportunities to bring jobs and economic benefits to communities through floodplain and estuaries restoration work.
  • Improve accessibility of decision-making processes about floodplains and estuaries by asking communities how they want to be involved and developing guidance for accessible meetings.
  • Meaningfully engage communities, specifically those most impacted by climate change and development, in floodplain and estuaries restoration project planning, design, and implementation.
  • Consider real estate reforms such as flood disclosure forms to protect floodplains and increase resident knowledge of surrounding floodplains.
  • Consider impacts of housing inequities on residents living in or near floodplains and support habitat restoration projects that move low-income housing stock outside climate vulnerable areas in ways that enable families to thrive economically and for communities to maintain social cohesion.
  • Integrate outdoor recreation and stewardship opportunities into floodplain and estuarine projects and plans.
  • Meaningfully engage with tribal nations in floodplain and river basin restoration and protection planning.
  • Use data such as health disparities to prioritize communities for restoration and protection projects.
  • Increase economic potential and integrate valuation of ecosystem services of agricultural lands and working forests to protect from conversion.

Climate Change

  • Incorporate climate projections and projected impacts into land use planning, integrated river basin planning and reach-scale plans, hazard mitigation planning, regulations, and project design in floodplain and estuary habitats.
  • Leverage existing programs and trusted partners to build awareness of changing climate and ocean conditions.
  • Integrate carbon sequestration considerations in watershed restoration and protection projects.
Ongoing Programs

Ongoing programs provide regulatory oversight, technical support, implementation resources, funding, or guidance and serve as the critical foundation for Puget Sound recovery. The following is a list of example state and federal ongoing programs that help to implement this strategy. Many more local, tribal nations, and nongovernmental programs exist that support this strategy.

Program Name Owner Organization
Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account Program WA RCO
Aquatic Reserves WA DNR
Aquatics land acquisitions and exchanges WA DNR
Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program (BRIC) US FEMA
Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Program US EPA
Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program US NOAA
Community-based Restoration Program US NOAA
Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy WA DFW
Continuing Authorities Program USACE
Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund USFWS
Creosote and Marine Debris Removal Program WA DNR
Dredged Material Management Program WA DNR
Ecosystems Support WA DFW
Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) program USDOT FHWA
Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program WA DFW
Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (ESRP) grants WA RCO
Family Forest Fish Passage Program WA DNR
Farmland preservation WA SCC
Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Program US BIA
Flood Mitigation Assistance Program US FEMA
Forest Practices Program including the Habitat Conservation Plan WA DNR
Forest Resilience Planning, Science, & Monitoring WA DNR
Forest Riparian Easement Program WA DNR
Governor's Salmon Recovery Office WA RCO
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program US FEMA
Hydraulic Project Approval Program WA DFW
Integrated Resource Restoration program USFS
Invasive Species Management WA DNR
Lands Conservation WA DFW
Leasing program for State Owned Aquatic Lands WA DNR
National Coastal Resilience Fund US NOAA
National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program USFWS
National Estuary Program and Puget Sound Geographic Funds US EPA
National Estuary Program: Habitat Strategic Initiative WA DFW
National Flood Insurance Program and Biological Opinion US FEMA
Natural Areas WA DNR
Natural Heritage Program WA DNR
Nearshore monitoring and aquatic assessment WA DNR
Nutrient Management Plans, technical assistance WA SCC
Office of Habitat Conservation US NOAA
Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund US NOAA
Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration WA PSP
Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Restoration Program USACE
Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan US NOAA
Puget Sound Coastal Program USFWS
Puget Sound Conservation Districts (12) WA SCC
Puget Sound Corps WA DNR
Puget Sound Federal Task Force US EPA
Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Program WA DFW
Puget Sound Steelhead Recovery Plan US NOAA
Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program US Navy
Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups (RFEGs) WA DFW
Riparian Plant Propagation Program WA SCC
Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program WA DNR
Salmon Recovery Funding Board WA RCO
Salmon Riparian Funding Program WA SCC
Salmonid Life Histories and Survival Research WA DFW
Shellfish Funding WA SCC
Shorelands - Floodplain Management WA ECY
Shorelands - Floodplains by Design WA ECY
Shorelands - Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve WA ECY
Shorelands - Wetland Mitigation Banking Program WA ECY
Shorelands - Wetland Mitigation Compliance Program WA ECY
Terrestrial land acquisitions and exchanges WA DNR
U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative USFWS
Urban Waters Partnership – Green-Duwamish Watershed Street Sounds Ecology
Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) WA SCC
Washington Geological Survey WA DNR
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program WA RCO
Water Resources - Streamflow Restoration program WA ECY
Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program USDA NRCS

What We're Measuring

We are achieving our recovery goal of increasing functioning habitat in the Puget Sound region by preventing fragmentation of rivers, floodplains, and estuaries, removing or changing the management of levees, floodgates, tidegates, roads, existing development, and other barriers in floodplains and estuaries; and restoring floodplains, tidal wetlands, and estuaries through multi-benefit approaches (i.e., integrated floodplain management). Indicators of success include:

Estuarine habitat acquisition
Estuarine habitat restoration
Estuary area in functional condition
Floodplain function in large and small river systems
Floodplain habitat acquisition
Floodplains by Design: Acres of floodplain restored
Floodplains habitat restoration
Number of accessible pocket estuaries and embayments
Riparian habitat acquisition
Riparian habitat restoration

Acres of estuarine habitat acquired for habitat conservation or restoration

Estuarine habitat acquisition

No reported data available

Acres of estuarine habitat improved through restoration activities

Estuarine habitat restoration

No reported data available

This indicator measures the amount (acres and percent) of estuarine surface area in functional condition in Puget Sound’s 16 large river deltas. Estuary function is measured by the extent of connected tidal wetlands. Functional estuaries provide many ecosystem services and are critical to the recovery of the region’s salmon populations.

Percentage of delta area for each category of tidal wetland connectivity under 2020 conditions. Tidal connectivity is categorized as unrestricted (all surrounding and downstream wetlands are open to tidal flooding), partially restricted, significantly restricted, or completely restricted. Areas that have been developed, filled, or are outside of the tidal extent were excluded from tidal wetland mapping. In some cases, wetland connectivity could not be determined and is classified as unknown.

This indicator measures the amount (acres and percent) of floodplain area in functional condition in Puget Sound’s 17 major rivers. Floodplain function is assessed at a regional scale using river connectivity and land use and cover. Areas that have natural land cover and unrestricted river flow are expected to be the most functional and provide the most ecosystem services. Floodplain function is impaired in areas with non-natural land cover or restricted river flow due to constraints or barriers (for example, roads, railroads, and levees).

Floodplain function in large and small river systems
By: Condition Assessment

Floodplain condition assessment across Puget Sound's 17 major rivers. Total area in acres for the four categories of floodplain condition at two time periods: 2011 baseline and circa 2021 update.

Acres of floodplains habitat protected for habitat conservation or restoration

Acres of floodplain habitat improved through restoration activities

Floodplains habitat restoration

No reported data available

This indicator measures the number of pocket estuaries and embayments that are accessible to juvenile salmon.

Number of accessible pocket estuaries and embayments

No reported data available

Acres of riparian areas acquired for habitat restoration or conservation

Acres of riparian areas improved through restoration activities

Riparian habitat restoration

No reported data available

Current Legislative Actions (7 Bills)
2024 | State Bill HB 2085 & SB 5922
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2193
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2286
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2289
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2456 & SB 6237
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill SB 5846
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill SB 5876
Status: Did not pass