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Project Background and Objectives

Thurston County has been one of the fasted growing counties in the state during the past decade, adding an average 35,900 residents each year.  Thurston Regional Planning Council predicts that by 2025, the county’s population will increase by 58%. In the face of these development pressures it is increasingly important to ensure that growth occurs responsibly and not at the expense of salmon and the ecosystems they rely upon.  Because Cooper and Johnson Points, and the Steamboat Island peninsula are located within and just outside of the City of Olympia their environments are highly susceptible to near-future development.

WDFW has identified one of the primary sources of habitat loss in the South Puget Sound basin as residential development and road building. “These activities result in loss of riparian vegetation, increased sediment loads, high run-off rates, and blockages to migration…” (WA State Salmonid Stock Inventory – Coastal Cutthroat Trout. 2000).

All cities and counties in Washington are required to adopt critical areas regulations by the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A.060). The GMA was amended in 1995 to require counties and cities to include the best available science in developing policies and development regulations to protect the functions and values of critical areas (RCW 36.70A.172). All jurisdictions are required to review, evaluate, and, if necessary, revise their critical areas ordinances to ensure that they meet GMA requirements.

The amount of protection that streams receive in Thurston County and in the City of Olympia is regulated by the water type classification system developed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) (Thurston County Code Chapter 17.15; Olympia Municipal Code 18.32.410).  Type 1, 2, and 3 streams are considered fish-bearing, and receive greater protection (in the form of buffers) than Type 4 and 5 (non fish-bearing) streams.  For a detailed discussion of how water type classification relates to stream buffer width requirements, see Thurston County Code 17.15.935 and Olympia Municipal Code 18.32.435.

The ability of this classification system to protect fish and their habitats is directly related to the accuracy of the water type classifications assigned to the streams in the County. Alarmingly, numerous studies performed by Wild Fish Conservancy have documented large (>50%) error rates associated with WDNR water type classifications in western Washington (; consequently, thousands of miles of unmapped and misclassified streams do not receive the protection they warrant.

Errors in water type maps typically fall into two main categories:

  1. The upper extent of fish and/or fish habitat distribution is underestimated; and/or
  2. Streams are mapped incorrectly or not at all.


Project Objectives

Wild Fish Conservancy Watertype Assessment Project objectives are fivefold:

  1. Correct the misclassification of WDNR water type in those watersheds draining South Puget Sound’s Cooper and Dofflemyer Points, and the Steamboat Island peninsula.  Correctly classifying water type designations will ensure that those habitats that warrant protection receive it.
  2. Correctly map previously unmapped and incorrectly mapped stream channels.  Channels that are not mapped correctly, or do not appear on the maps at all, may be overlooked and receive little or no protection.  Without accurately identifying where the fish and their habitats are, they cannot be protected nor included in basin-wide recovery planning efforts.  Even small watersheds that are correctly typed will directly contribute to the reduction of negative cumulative impacts.
  3. Provide fish species-specific distribution data and fish passage barrier data to assist with basin wide restoration project identification and prioritization efforts. 
  4. Evaluate the type and extent of water type designation inaccuracies that exist in Thurston County.  This assessment will begin to characterize the magnitude and extent of regulatory mapping errors in Thurston County. 
  5. Make all the information collected during and resulting from this assessment available to interested agencies and the general public via an interactive web-based GIS (see  Work directly with Thurston County, a project partner, to ensure that their regulatory maps are updated with the newly collected watertype data.

In addition to ensuring that the best available science is used to identify and protect fish habitats under existing laws, this assessment will fill data gaps regarding fish passage impediments (diversion dams, withdrawal systems, etc.) and fish species composition and distribution – information needed to responsibly identify, prioritize, and implement effective and science-based restoration projects in WRIA 13.  This assessment will also lead to the direct identification of restoration and protection opportunities within the study watersheds.

Project Caveats

The following caveats apply to the Wild Fish Conservancy Watertype Assessment Project:

  1. The interactive mapping website depicts the results of the surveys performed by Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in South Puget Sound between 2005 and 2007.  In spring 2008 WFC will submit the survey results to the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and propose that the regulatory water type maps be amended to reflect the survey results.
  2. WFC field staff performed surveys only where permission had been granted by landowners, and at points of public access (public road crossings, etc.).  While survey coverage was extensive and systematic, it was not comprehensive.  There likely are streams and wetlands that exist on the ground that are not depicted on our interactive maps.  
  3. When stream reaches could not be typed due to limited access, they were classified as Type 9 (unclassified, or Type U) regardless of how WDNR had typed them.
  4. WFC did not attempt to delineate wetland boundaries.  Notes and photographs available on the interactive map depict where extensive wetlands were encountered, but wetlands were not delineated.  Detailed mapping information about wetland locations and other features is available on the Thurston GeoData Center’s website.
  5. Wild Fish Conservancy makes every effort to ensure that this web site is a true and accurate representation of what we documented during the watertype assessment. However, we make no warranty regarding the accuracy, completeness or convenience of any information disclosed on the site. Nor does WFC accept liability for any damage or injury caused by the use of this site, including but not limited to: failure of performance, error, omission, interruption, effect, delay and operation of transmission, computer virus, or on-line failure. Users of the site must take responsibility for any effect downloading of materials, especially from linked sites, may have on their computers or data contained within their computers.
  6. The stream location and classification information presented in the Wild Fish Conservancy interactive mapping utility should be used to supplement professional site-specific on-the-ground surveys; they should not be used as a substitute for such surveys.
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