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Stepping Stone Bridge

Critical Areas

Steven Erickson, Division Director
Email: Steven.Erickson@co.yakima.wa.us

 

 

What Are Critical Areas?
The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) identifies five Critical Areas, which include Wetlands, Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas (CARA’s), Frequently Flooded Areas, Geologically Hazardous Areas, and Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas.  Because Yakima County plans under the GMA, it is required to protect Critical Areas.  Yakima County protects critical areas through administration of the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).

Critical Areas requirements protect key functions that enhance our environment and protect us from hazards.  Benefits of Critical Areas include aesthetics and recreation, clean drinking water, wildlife and aquatic life habitat, floodwater storage, and groundwater recharge, among others.  Once these areas are damaged or lost, they are very expensive to restore.  The costs of floods, landslides, and contaminated drinking water are not only monetarily expensive, but can also cost lives. 

Will my project need a Critical Areas Permit?
Some projects located near or within Critical Areas need a permit prior to development.   Other project will be eligible for a Critical Areas exemption.   Prior to submitting an application for a Critical Areas Permit/Exemption, a Pre-Application Meeting with Natural Resources Staff is required. Site Visits are conducted as needed or as requested.   The pre-application meeting and early assistance is designed to help you understand the review process and think about ways to design the project to have the least impact on the Critical Area(s) and surrounding environment.

I would like to know more about Critical Areas. 
Additional information concerning Yakima County’s Critical Areas can be found by clicking on the following terms [drop-down lists]:

FLOOD HAZARD AREAS (YCC Title 16C.05)
FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT AND THE STREAM CORRIDOR SYSTEM (YCC Title 16C.06) 
WETLANDS (YCC Title 16C.07)
GEOLOGICALLY HAZARDOUS AREAS – YCC Title 16C.08
CRITICAL AQUIFER RECHARGE AREAS  (YCC Title 16C.09) 
UPLAND WILDLIFE HABITAT CONSERVATION AREAS (YCC Title 16C.11)

FLOOD HAZARD AREAS (YCC Title 16C.05)

This chapter holds the County’s Flood Hazard regulations that are necessary for County residents to be eligible for flood insurance.   It meets the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain requirements and is administered by the Building Official through a separate permit process.  Flood Hazard Areas consist of floodplains and floodways.  Floodplains are land areas adjoining a river, stream, watercourse or lake which have been determined likely to flood.  The term floodplain is synonymous with the 100-year floodplain and means the land area susceptible to inundation with a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year (YCC 16C.02.210).  Floodway means the regular channel of a river, stream, or other watercourse, plus the adjacent land areas that must be reserved in order to discharge the base flood without cumulatively increasing the water surface elevation more than one foot (YCC 16C.02.220).  Further information regarding these areas can be found by visiting the Municipal Research Service Center of Washington (MRSC) website at http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/pubsafe/emergency/ps-flood.aspx#Information

FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT AND THE STREAM CORRIDOR SYSTEM (YCC Title 16C.06)

This is the most complex of the critical areas because habitat can come in many forms, and because it deals with complex river systems and biological systems.  Fish and Wildlife Habitat in Yakima County can generally be thought of as either aquatic habitat or riparian habitat; collectively known as Hydrologically Related Critical Areas (HRCAs).   To maintain viable populations of fish and wildlife species, there must be adequate environmental conditions for reproduction, foraging, resting, cover, and dispersal of animals at a variety of scales across the landscape. Key factors affecting habitat quality include fragmentation, the presence of essential resources such as food, water, nest building materials, the complexity of the environment, and the presence or absence of predator species and diseases.  As a method of linking large habitat areas, migration corridors offer a means by which to connect publicly protected lands and other intact habitat areas.  The stream corridors system offers a natural system of such linkages.  The CAO establishes protection measures for HRCAs including both aquatic habitat and riparian habitat.   YCC Title 16C.06.05 describes the functional properties of HRCAs.  The bulk of the chapter provides the development standards for projects within HRCAs.

WETLANDS (YCC Title 16C.07)

Wetlands are those areas inundated or saturated by Water Resources Division or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances does support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.  Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas (YCC 16C.02.425).  Wetlands provide important functions to the environment, such as nutrient and sediment retention, floodwater storage, groundwater recharge, and habitat for fish and wildlife.  Development near wetlands in Yakima County is subject to buffers of undisturbed area, varying in width and measured from the wetland’s edge, to assure minimal impacts to the wetland and its functions. The county relies on the Fish and Wildlife Habitat protection measures in Chapter 6 to protect wetlands. Further information on wetlands can be found at the DOE’s website: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/wetlands/index.html.

GEOLOGICALLY HAZARDOUS AREAS – YCC Title 16C.08

Geologically Hazardous Areas include those areas susceptible to erosion, sliding, earthquake, or other geological events.  They pose a threat to the health and safety of the citizens of Yakima County when incompatible development is sited in area of significant hazard.  In addition to the development standards within the CAO, the County relies on the International Building Code for addressing several of the many geologic hazard types. 

CRITICAL AQUIFER RECHARGE AREAS  (YCC Title 16C.09)

Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas (CARA’s) are those areas with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water, or areas where a drinking aquifer is vulnerable to contamination that would affect the potability of the water (YCC 16C.09.01(1)).  The County relies on other regulatory programs, noted below, rather than establishing new review processes.  Further information regarding CARA’s can be found by visiting the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE)’s website at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/grndwtr/cara/index.html

 

UPLAND WILDLIFE HABITAT CONSERVATION AREAS (YCC Title 16C.11)

Upland Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas are those areas where land is managed for maintaining species in suitable habitats within their natural geographic distribution so that isolated subpopulations are not created.   The intent of the UWHCA is to classify seasonal ranges and habitat elements with which federal and state listed endangered, threatened and sensitive species have a primary association and which, if altered, may reduce the likelihood that the species will maintain and reproduce over the long term.

Prior to any application, an early assistance meeting is required with an Environmental and Natural Resources Planner. Please contact Yakima County Public Services Planning Division at (509) 574-2300 to arrange a meeting.  For project specific questions, please contact Yakima County Public Services Planning Division at (509)574-2300.