The Watershed

Masonry Dam Arial View

The Cedar River Watershed is a large natural area in the Cascade Mountains used by the City of Seattle to provide two-thirds of the drinking water (municipal and industrial water) for about 1.3 million people in King and Snohomish counties, and about one percent of the electricity for Seattle City Light customers.

The City of Seattle owns all but a few acres of the land and is responsible for managing all activities in the 90,546-acre municipal watershed. For health, safety, and security reasons, the municipal watershed is closed to unsupervised public access. Public tours of the watershed can arranged through the Watershed Management Division. Over 10,000 school children and adults tour the watershed each year and participate in the national award-winning environmental education programs.

The Cedar River Watershed has been used for a variety of "secondary" purposes over the years, including public education, scientific research, limited recreation in some areas, and commercial timber harvest by former private landowners, the U.S. Forest Service, and the City.

The Endangered Species Act

The Cedar River Watershed HCP was developed in response to requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1973 to provide a means of conserving the ecosystems upon which threatened or endangered species depend. Under the ESA, federal law prohibits the "take" of any threatened or endangered species. "Take" is defined as harassment, harm, pursuit, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting.

In 1982, Congress amended the ESA, allowing "take" if it is incidental to the intended action. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), outlining measures to mitigate for the "take", is required to continue "incidental take". An HCP must include alternative actions to the "take" and incorporate public comments and concerns. Implementation of an approved HCP is then exchanged for Incidental Take Permits from the Federal Government.

Planning and development of the Cedar River Watershed HCP began in 1993 when it became evident that Chinook salmon would soon be listed under the ESA. The withdrawal of water from the Cedar River affected Chinook salmon, and would be considered an "incidental take" once the species was listed. Several other endangered species or species of concern were also known to inhabit the watershed, such as bull trout, marbled murrelet, bald eagle and spotted owl.

  • In 1997, the City reached Agreement in Principle with five Federal and State agencies on major terms of an HCP.
  • A formal scoping process was conducted to develop the basis for preparation of potential environmental consequences of the HCP and the alternatives to be evaluated in the Environmental Assessment (EA)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • Public comments were incorporated.
  • A draft of the HCP was submitted to the Mayor.
  • The final draft of the HCP, incorporating the Mayor’s recommended changes, was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS).
  • In April 2000 the legal agreements that cover implementation of the Cedar River Watershed HCP were signed by state and federal agencies and Incidental Take Permits were issued to the City by NMFS and USFWS.

Collaboration in the HCP Process

Masonry Dam aerial view

The Cedar River Watershed HCP was developed collaboratively over a period of four years by the City, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with involvement of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

In addition to the ESA, the HCP addresses related issues with the State of Washington regarding the blockage to salmon and steelhead trout posed by the City’s Landsburg Diversion Dam, the location where the City diverts drinking water into its distribution system. The plan also addresses state and federal issues regarding stream flows in the Cedar River.

Public Involvement

The City of Seattle held more than 100 meetings, field trips, presentations and workshops for the public. In 1999, the draft HCP and EA/EIS were reviewed in a 60-day comment period. 4 workshops were held to discuss the plan, alternatives and funding. Formal hearings were held and written comments were also accepted.


Rattlesnake Lake

Implementation of the HCP began in April, 2000 with the issuance of the incidental take permits and the signing of the principal HCP agreements by the City, State of Washington, National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Department of Ecology. Since that time, these implementation efforts have occurred:

  • A City HCP implementation team was assembled. The implementation team developed an implementation plan and began work on several projects and programs identified in the HCP.
  • Three oversight committees were established which oversee implementation of the various elements of the HCP: the Instream Flow Commission (IFC), the Anadromous Fish Committee (AFC) and the HCP Oversight Committee (OC)
  • Fish passage facilities at the Landsburg Diversion Dam were completed in 2003.
  • A permanent sockeye hatchery was completed and has been operational since 2008.
  • The new Instream Flow Agreement and flow regime are being implemented
  • Road decommissioning improvements, and maintenance work in the watershed is ongoing.
  • Watershed restoration projects and downstream habitat protection and restoration are underway.
  • The new land management prescriptions in the watershed are now in effect.
  • Several research and monitoring projects have been initiated