Water Typing

What is water typing?

In 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?

Washington water-typing maps classify stream reaches as “fish bearing” (F) or “non-fish bearing” (N). Stream reaches typed “F” receive larger protective buffers than stream reaches typed “N.” In cities and counties throughout Puget Sound, water type classification directly affects the amount of protection that streamside buffers receive through local government critical areas ordinances. Mis-classified, mis-mapped, or un-mapped stream reaches often do not receive the protection they warrant under existing regulations.

The Need

In Washington, our state and local governments are charged with protecting fish bearing streams from adverse impacts associated with adjacent land-use activities like forest practices and development.

To accomplish this, they depend on a process called “water typing” to classify streams, lakes, and wetlands. This basic inventory is the most fundamental step in conserving the health of streams, rivers, and, ultimately, the larger waters they feed, like Puget Sound.

Too often, however, these streams do not receive the protection they should 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.

Through extensive fieldwork Wild Fish Conservancy has documented widespread error in regulatory maps, finding that many streams are mis-classified, mis-mapped, or are not on the maps at all. When regulatory maps are inaccurate, streams may be impacted by inappropriate land-use practices.

Boots on the Ground

For the past 24 years, Wild Fish Conservancy staff have surveyed and ground-truthed thousands of small streams throughout the Northwest.

Through this effort, we have documented widespread error in regulatory maps, finding that many streams are mis-classified, mis-mapped, or are not on the maps at all. When regulatory maps are inaccurate, streams may be impacted by inappropriate land-use practices. We map these streams in order to protect the ecological integrity of watersheds and the habitat they provide for native, wild fish.

Through past and ongoing water-typing projects, we have corrected the classification of over 9,000 stream reaches in the state of Washington alone. Wild Fish Conservancy submits all of this data to local, state, and tribal governments so that the groundtruthed mapping information can be used to identify and protect sensitive stream environments.

By performing systematic water type inventories, we're increasing the likelihood that critical areas receive the protection they warrant and that accurate data are used to make informed and responsible habitat protection and restoration planning decisions.


Watch the video below to learn more about why water typing is fundamental to protecting wild fish habitats.

Our Watertyping Initiatives

Wild Fish Conservancy is working on water typing assessments in counties and watersheds throughout the Northwest. We are also working closely with state agencies, Tribes, and other conservation groups to update the water typing policy and regulations so they better meet Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act objectives. We are performing outreach to cities and counties to improve the effectiveness of their Critical Areas Ordinances, many of which rely on water type maps.
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Years of Water Typing
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Total Projects Completed
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Stream Reaches Corrected

Water typing Projects

Little Quilcene Assessment

WFC conducted a rapid watershed assessment, analyzed the current status of salmon stocks, and developed a comprehensive suite of restoration actions intended to quickly improve habitat conditions for native wild fish in the Little Quilcene River basin

Help Conserve the Northwest's Iconic Wild Fish

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