WSDOT Uses Local Priorities to Identify
Local salmon conservation priorities are finding their way into
Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) mitigation
projects when interests overlap.
WSDOT has participated in a variety of watershed-based programs
during the last decade. More recently, WSDOT began implementing a
more formal, scientific approach to watershed assessment, using a
GIS-based approach and data from local sources. Traditional mitigation
techniques focused on a narrow “project by project” or “on-site” review
and analysis. This focus can lead to mitigation that treats symptoms
rather than core causes. Continued decline in the health of aquatic
ecosystems and the species associated with them indicate that the
old ways were not working.
WSDOT’s new watershed characterization methodologies seek
a more complete understanding of project effects, seek to assess
the condition of surrounding natural resources, and to identify potential
mitigation options that have the greatest opportunity for maximizing
environmental benefit while reducing mitigation costs. To maximize
environmental benefits, the efforts focus on the recovery of ecosystem
processes. In Western Washington, key ecological processes include
delivery and routing of water, sediment, pollutants, large wood,
heat, and habitat integrity/connectivity.
Richard Gersib, the Watershed Program Manager and Tim Hilliard,
Watershed Specialist at WSDOT believe that an important aspect of
this approach is to use local jurisdictions’ information and
hard data as well as locally determined recovery priorities for mitigation
when they satisfy mitigation needs and fall within targeted recovery
areas. This level of coordination means that WSDOT is using compatible
results and delineations of watershed sub-units such as drainage
areas. It also means that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel
to identify and prioritize significant mitigation sites.
WSDOT is in the final stages of a “real world test” of
the watershed characterization methodology. This test is expected
to result in a list of appropriate potential mitigation sites in
the watersheds impacted by the widening of Interstate 405 between
the Cedar River and I-90 junction. Local coordination included consultations
with King County, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and the three cities affected
by the project (Bellevue, Newcastle and Renton). WSDOT also informed
elected officials serving on the I-405 Steering Committee and local
and agency staff serving on the I-405 Technical Committee.
WSDOT used several local sources to identify local priority projects
and “recovery themes” that fit within their mitigation
area from several local sources:
- The Near-Term Action Agenda for Salmon Habitat Conservation,
Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed.
- The Limiting Factors Analysis for WRIA 8.
- The May Creek Basin Plan.
- The Lower Cedar River Basin and Non-point Pollution Action Plan
- Coal Creek Basin Plan
Up to ten sites overlapped and floated to the top of the list. Gersib
and Hilliard expect to provide a status report to local stakeholders
by the end of the month. The level of local coordination and information
sharing inherent in the watershed characterization method allows
for efficiencies of scale that would otherwise not be possible. Smaller
jurisdictions have access to data and GIS maps that they would otherwise
not be able to afford themselves. Larger jurisdictions, such as King
County, with responsibility to provide similar data, do not have
to duplicate studies. The work salmon recovery planners are doing
is being put to broader use as well. Both salmon and taxpayers reap