The protection of critical areas is essential to preserving our natural environment and protecting the public’s health and safety. Protecting critical areas helps reduce exposure to risks, such as landslides or flooding, and maintains the natural elements of our landscape. Critical areas provide a variety of benefits: clean drinking water, enhanced water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and managed flood risks, to name a few.
Protection of critical areas is necessary to preserve these benefits and to reduce the hazards associated with some critical areas. The functions and values of critical areas, once lost, can be costly or even impossible to replace.
There are five critical areas identified in the Growth Management Act (GMA). They are:
• Areas with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water.
• Frequently flooded areas.
• Geologically hazardous areas.
• Fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas.
All critical areas must be designated and their functions and values protected using the best available scientific information - known as best available science or BAS. Salmonids play an extremely important role in the ecosystem and are vital cultural and economic resources, therefore jurisdictions must also "give special consideration to conservation and protection measures necessary to preserve or enhance anadromous fisheries."
Protecting critical areas has a nexus in several federal and state laws: including the Federal Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Floodplain Insurance Program (administered by FEMA); and including the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), Shoreline Management Act, Watershed Planning Act, Salmon Recovery Act, the Municipal Water Law and the GMA. Additionally the federal and state governments have a responsibility to ensure that tribal treaty rights are upheld, which in part requires that fish habitat is protected and improved.
Please Note: The Department of Commerce is in the process of updating the critical areas assistance handbook and links to other state agency critical areas guidance. For more information about the update, please go to the project web site update information at this link: Commerce Update of Critical Areas Guidance.
Publications and Resources
Growth Management Services and other state agencies provide technical assistance through detailed guidebooks and other publications to assist local governments in planning.
Critical Areas Assistance Handbook: Protecting Critical Areas within the Framework of the Washington Growth Management Act, 2007 - to help Washington Communities design locally appropriate programs for designating and protecting Critical Areas.
- Growth Management
- Governor's Smart Communities Awards Program
- GMA Laws and Rules
- GMA Periodic Update
- Growth Management Grants
- Growth Management Topics
- Guidebooks and Resources
- Military Base Compatibility Study
- Regional Planners' Forums
- Short Course on Local Planning
- Submitting Materials to the State for Review