Creek Side Property Owner Guidelines

People who live near a stream-riparian corridor are aware of the significant impacts storms and resultant high flows can have on our creeks. Sediment, debris, fallen trees, beaver activity, flooding, and eroding stream banks are all examples of issues that a homeowner may face. Because of their ecological significance, there are many rules (city, state, & federal) governing human activities in and around our creek systems.

There are basically three types of water courses or streams:

  1. Perennial, meaning that they flow year-round, regardless of rainfall levels
  2. Spring fed, which may originate from hillside “seeps”
  3. Seasonal or “ephemeral” streams that flow only during the rainy months

Any of these natural channels located on your property may fall under several legal jurisdictions (federal, state, and/or city), depending on what fish/wildlife species are present and the significance of the problem.

Who can help you with your backyard creek?

Seattle’s Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) may have jurisdiction over your creek or riparian (“critical”) area and should be contacted for advice before you proceed with any work. Projects which involve significant construction, dredging or fill may also require consultation with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Several different permits may be required to remove natural accumulations of large woody debris (LWD) or make any alterations to stabilize stream banks, depending on the significance of the project and the time it will be implemented. SDCI works closely with WDFW to insure that all state and local regulations are followed. It is best to seek consultation before you start any project, including simple log or debris removal or complex stream bank stabilization work.

SDCI enforces the City’s Environmentally Critical Areas Ordinance (ECA) and the State Environmental Policies Act (SEPA). This requires that SDCI review all projects to insure that they meet the minimum requirements of ECA and SEPA. Representatives for SDCI can be contacted through the Applicant Services Center at 206-684-8850. SDCI representatives are available to perform site inspections, to advise citizens on the permitting requirements for creek-related projects, and to give advice on the best potential solution for any given location. Quite often LWD and log jams that appear to be a problem actually provide habitat benefits to the stream. It is important to get a good assessment of the situation before taking action.

The next step

Once you have had a consultation it is important to determine your permitting requirements. In order to determine if your emergency creek maintenance project will require a SEPA review, refer to Client Assistance Memo (CAM) 208 on the SDCI website.

In addition to SDCI consultation, WDFW administers all actions below the ordinary high water mark (OHWM), including LWD manipulation or removal. Work performed within the stream below the OHWM will likely require a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA). In order to view all the information necessary to determine if your project requires an HPA, refer to the WDFW website.

If you are experiencing an emergency there is an expedited process that will shorten the time required to secure a permit. These instructions are also contained within the above link.

Contact information

For site consultations and advice the following individuals can be contacted within WDFW:

SPU does not have regulatory jurisdiction over the creek running through your property. SDCI and WDFW (and possibly USACE) will need to be contacted for technical advice and information on regulatory compliance before starting any project.