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Critical Areas Ordinance

Introduction to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) Update Process
Note: The 2012 Update to the CAO will take effect March 31, 2014
The update of Critical Areas Ordinances is a system for Washington counties to preserve the natural environment and to protect the public’s health and safety. A successful update of our CAO will help assure that our grandchildren will share the same quality of life we enjoy in the islands today.

The Washington State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A) in 1990. The Growth Management Act (GMA) required counties and cities to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations to coordinate and manage growth and development, as well as protect the State’s natural resources. Under the provisions of the GMA, local jurisdictions must designate and manage regulated critical areas. Development activities within or adjacent to these areas are required to comply with the provisions of local ordinances.

Types of Critical Areas

Protections are required for five “Critical Areas”:
Critical Aquifer
Recharge Areas
Fish and Wildlife
Wetlands Frequently
Flooded Areas

Update Requirements
Every county and city planning under the Washington Growth Management Act is required to review and update its comprehensive plan and development regulations every seven years to make sure that they comply with the provisions of the GMA.

State Requirements for Critical Area Ordinances:

  • Must consider the best available science, must protect critical areas and ensure not net loss to their functions and values.
  • Must give special consideration to preservation and enhancement of anadromous and migratory fisheries
  • Wetlands must be delineated according to the Washington State Department of Ecology Manual

Information on the Website (click the headers on the left side of the page)