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Guiding Growth - Healthy Watersheds: Science to Local Policy

Translating Science into Local PolicyWatershed Photo

Thurston County has a wealth of natural features that make it a wonderful place to live. With our abundance of clear lakes and streams, lush forests, and close access to the mountains and Puget Sound, it’s no wonder that our county is one of the fastest growing areas in Washington State. According to the latest population forecast, we can expect an additional 140,000 people in our region over the next 30 years.

This growth will bring unquestionable benefits to the economy and residents of Thurston County, yet there are downsides to such a rapid increase in population and the demand for new homes, roads, and services that it entails. Development in sensitive areas can damage our watersheds, resulting in lakes, streams, and beaches that are unhealthy or even unusable for both people and wildlife.

How can we accommodate this growth in a way that preserves the health of our waterways and the quality of life we value in Thurston County? This is the goal of the Guiding Growth – Healthy Watersheds project: To understand where the threats to our natural resources are greatest, and to identify ways to prevent the degradation of those resources, preserving them for future generations.

Project Background

Thurston County has teamed with Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) to bring watershed science into local policies that protect water quality in Puget Sound. This collaborative effort is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and focuses on areas within the Totten, Eld, Budd/Deschutes, Henderson, and Nisqually Reach watersheds (see a map of the project area).

Our first step was to understand existing conditions in our watersheds, gathered from recent scientific and monitoring data, as well as future growth patterns. Next, we considered the effects of different strategies on several representative basins using computer modeling. Those results will help identify the best management strategies for each area. Finally, each local jurisdiction will determine how the recommendations fit their community, through their own public processes. New management options may include changes to existing development regulations, transfer or purchase of development rights, low impact development, or long-term protection of sensitive lands.

Through this work, we can contribute to the regional recovery of Puget Sound and ensure we meet the demands of a growing population, while protecting the clean water and natural areas that make our county a special place to live.

In 2014, Thurston County was awarded a follow-up grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do watershed planning in the Deschutes Watershed.

Basin Modeling Study

On April 17, 2013, the Board of County Commissioners approved the project team’s recommendation of three basins for further focus: Black Lake, McLane Creek, and Woodard Creek (see a map of the basins). These three basins were selected based on the results of the Basin Evaluation Report and an assessment of available data. Together they represent a range of current ecological conditions – from rural and forested areas to more urban and residential neighborhoods – but under current regulations all three are likely to experience impacts to water quality from future growth.

The project team gathered information to identify what potential land use changes should be investigated in these basins as part of this study, and worked with consultant Northwest Hydraulic Consultants to model potential future changes to water flow and water quality.

Based on the results of the study, the project team identified recommendations for land use policies and other activities to protect and improve water resources and restore watershed functions.

Visit the links below for more information on each basin.


This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement (PO -00J12401-0) to Thurston County. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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