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Water Typing

Watertype Image #2In 1975, Washington developed a process to identify and classify stream, lakes, and wetlands into types, depending on their physical, biological, and human-use characteristics. The process, called water typing, was originally intended to regulate forest practices that impact Washington’s surface waters. This basic inventory is the most fundamental step in conserving wild-fish habitats. Where are the streams, and where are the fish habitats within them?

Today, several state and local agencies in Washington rely on water typing to protect the state’s surface waters from adverse impacts associated with any number of land-use activities. Unfortunately, most of those agencies are falling well short of the mark for a surprisingly simple reason: they are relying on inaccurate maps. Current water-typing records and maps often underestimate the actual miles of fish-bearing waters by 50% or more.

Wild Fish Conservancy and other researchers have documented widespread error in designating streams as fish bearing or non fish bearing. Many fish-bearing streams do not even appear on any maps. Hundreds of miles of productive aquatic habitats are being damaged by inappropriate land practices because they have been misidentified.

Since 1994 Wild Fish Conservancy has been surveying streams throughout Washington to correct their misclassification and qualify them for the protection warranted under existing laws. Through specific, ongoing water-typing projects, we have corrected the classification of over 7000 stream reaches statewide.

Water Typing in Puget Sound

In view of the current major initiative to recover Puget Sound, it will be particularly critical to rectify the misclassification of Puget Sound lowland streams, since the impacts of development in these systems, including bank erosion, water Watertype Image #1quality degradation and habitat loss, will have significant consequences for nearshore marine environments in the Sound.  Puget Sound cannot be saved without a thorough and accurate inventory of the watersheds that feed it.

For a more complete summary of Wild Fish Conservancy’s water-typing program, read Conserving the Lifeblood of Puget Sound by Jamie Glasgow, Wild Fish Conservancy Director of Science and Research. Read reports and view interactive maps from Wild Fish Conservancy water-typing projects.

For more information about the water-typing program, view Jamie Glasgow's presentation to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on June 15, 2011. His presentation is available for download, here.

A Need for Water typing

Since 1994 the Wild Fish Conservancy has been surveying streams throughout Washington to correct their misclassification and qualify them for the protection warranted under existing laws. A recent report from American Rivers and the Sierra Club examines the importance of accurately classifying small streams and maintains that these vulnerable watersheds are not adequately protected. This report is a must read for anyone interested in water typing and is available here (2.5MB).

Water typing in the news

  • Wild Fish Conservancy and project partners are currently performing a water type assessment in Kitsap County (WRIA 15).  As expected, preliminary results document significant errors in the state's official maps.  WFC presented an overview of findings-to-date at the Friends of Miller Bay annual meeting in November 2010, which was attended by over one hundred local citizens and interested individuals.  To view the PowerPoint presentation, click here.
  • Wild Fish Conservancy Director of Science and Research (Ecology), Jamie Glasgow was recently published by the Tacoma New Tribune with an article regarding the need for water typing in Puget Sound. The complete article is available here.
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