The Puget Sound watchdog group Sound Action and 10 state environmental groups* last week addressed the importance of strengthening nearshore habitat protections in a joint letter commenting on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s proposed revisions to the state’s hydraulic code. 

The code is the state’s principal regulatory tool to ensure the protection of nearshore and stream habitats and fish life from the harmful impacts of in-water development and construction work.

“Our review found that much of the proposed language creates exemptions and regulatory loopholes and utilizes language that appears to diminish both department responsibility and the ability to ensure the mandated protection of vital habitats,” said Sound Action executive director Amy Carey.

According to the environmental group’s comments:

·      The proposed new rules don’t require project applicants to conduct forage fish spawning surveys prior to work, nor do they require vegetation surveys at project sites.

·      The new rules introduce a simplified permit that allows project approval with no impact review or site visit; they also allow permit applicants unnecessary latitude to negotiate timing restrictions for work.

·      Most significant, the new rules make no provision to protect spawning areas that have not been identified as spawning areas. The groups advocate that the precautionary principle should be applied and protective provisions to a project used when certain habitat features are present even if the site is not currently listed as containing a “documented” habitat.

The rule revision process continues into 2014 with additional public hearing and comment periods, with adoption scheduled for mid-2014.

The rule revisions also drew comments from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission [ ] and the Skagit River System Cooperative [].

For a more detailed account of the environmental group’s comments on the revised rule, click here []

*Environmental groups signing: League of Women Voters of Washington, Sound Action, Coastal Watershed Institute, Spokane Riverkeeper, Wild Fish Conservancy, Friends of the San Juans, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities