Puget Sound Watershed Characterization Project

This project is a coarse-scale, systematic characterization of different areas within the Puget Sound watershed, aimed at providing a framework for land use discussions.

Puget Sound drainage area. Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology.
Puget Sound drainage area. Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology.

From the Puget Sound Characterization Project website:

What is a ‘characterization?

We use the term 'characterization' to describe the results of integrating information from several environmental assessments to provide an ecosystem view of the landscape. A characterization and other science-based information is useful for helping local governments develop:

  • Restoration and protection strategies
  • Land-use plans
  • Designations and regulations
  • Development standards

Puget Sound Characterization

The Puget Sound Characterization is a regional-scale tool that highlights the most important areas to protect, and restore, and those most suitable for development. The program, funded by an EPA grant, is a collaborative effort between Ecology, the Puget Sound Partnership, and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Characterization covers the entire Puget Sound drainage area — from the Olympic Mountains on the west to the Cascades on the east, including the San Juan Islands.

The Characterization includes watershed assessments of:

  • Water flow (surface storage, recharge, and discharge)
  • Water quality (sediment, nutrients, pathogens, and metals)
  • Landscape assessments of fish and wildlife habitat in three environments:
    • Terrestrial
    • Freshwater
    • Marine

The assessments prioritize small watersheds, or habitat areas, relative to one another for their protection and restoration value.

The program should help planners in the Puget Sound region make better decisions about land use and effective protection, restoration, and conservation strategies for the Sound’s natural resources by:

  • Describing a multi-scale framework for land-use planning that integrates information on water flow, water quality, and habitat
  • Providing results from assessments that can help guide the protection and restoration of watersheds and the habitats they support
  • Explaining how to interpret and apply the results of these assessments.

The Characterization documents, including GIS data and maps, are available from the Ecology website. The two finished volumes of the characterization are linked below.

Volume 1 - Final - Water Resource Assessments (pdf)

Volume 2 - Final - Habitat Assessments (pdf)