2022-2026 ACTION AGENDA EXPLORER

STRATEGY 5

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.
DESIRED OUTCOMES
  • Protect habitat from conversion, fragmentation
  • Remove barriers to flow
  • Restore habitat-forming processes
Actions

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;
  • Develop a framework to identify highest priority salmon habitats to protect in Puget Sound.

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

Human Wellbeing

     

Climate Change

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing consideration in efforts to protect and restore floodplains and estuaries include:

 

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate climate change responses in efforts to protect and restore floodplains and estuaries include:

  • 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.
 
  • 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.

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:

Acres of floodplain and estuary habitat protected and restored
Acres of natural land cover converted to developed uses in priority areas, sound-wide
Floodplain function in large and small river systems
Number of accessible pocket estuaries and embayments
Percent of estuaries habitat area in functional condition

This is a candidate progress indicator that would track the total acres of floodplain and estuary protected, and restored to functional conditions. This indicator is under development.

Acres of floodplain and estuary habitat protected and restored
By:

No reported data available

This is a candidate progress indicator measuring our ability to prevent conversion of natural land cover in ecologically important areas due to development. Priority areas include riparian areas, floodplains, estuaries, wetlands, etc. This indicator is under development.

Acres of natural land cover converted to developed uses in priority areas, sound-wide
By:

No reported data available

Floodplain function is assessed using connectivity, land cover and land use for the 17 major rivers of Puget Sound. Areas that have natural land cover and unrestricted river flow are expected to be the most functional and provide the most ecosystem services. Floodplain areas with non-natural land cover and restricted river flow due to constraints (e.g. roads, railroads, levees) will have impaired or loss of floodplain function.

Floodplain function in large and small river systems
By: Category
2011 baseline floodplain condition assessment for the 17 major rivers of Puget Sound. Total area is shown in acres for each category of floodplain condition.

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

Number of accessible pocket estuaries and embayments
By:

No reported data available

This indicator measures the amount of estuarine surface area in functional condition, defined by the extent of connected tidal wetlands and the extent of functional tidal channels based on aerial photography.

Percent of estuaries habitat area in functional condition
By:

No reported data available