Helping property owners protect fish

WDFW requests $2.5 million to support hydraulic project compliance program

Fish protections are key to conservation

Protecting fish during construction projects is an essential part of salmon and orca recovery efforts, plentiful fisheries, and associated jobs. Washington State law (RCW 77.55) requires landowners, businesses, and government agencies to get a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) before starting a construction project or other work activities in or near state waters.

Construction projects in or near a waterbody require a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA): A tool to protect fish and their habitats

HPAs are meant to ensure that construction or other work in or near a waterbody is done in a manner that protects fish and their aquatic habitats. However, this tool is only effective if people follow the approved plans and guidelines in their HPA.

To better understand the frequency of HPA noncompliance, the department conducted a study project in the Hood Canal area. From July 2017 to February 2019, a WDFW biologist was dedicated to studying compliance coordination and conducted 175 site inspections on 98 HPA-permitted projects.

As part of an HPA compliance study project in Hood Canal, a WDFW biologist and contractor discuss possible solutions to compliance issues.

About 83% of site inspection visits encountered at least one instance of HPA noncompliance, which can have a profound impact on fish habitat.

In addition to documenting noncompliance issues, the WDFW biologist worked to help landowners and contractors identify and create solutions to compliance issues. Contractors found this collaboration to be a helpful partnership and voluntarily corrected any non-compliant concerns that were identified.

“WDFW’s Compliance Biologist has been very helpful, providing continued oversight of the work and quick feedback on the site. When there are any concerns or questions, she is extremely helpful in finding a quick and easy modification or suggestion to allow the work to be completed on time.” — Jenny Rotsten, Sealevel Bulkhead Builders, referencing 2018 HPA compliance pilot project

Compliance program helps promote good stewardship

In 2019, the Washington Legislature adopted the Chinook Abundance bill that, among other things, grants WDFW new civil compliance tools to help landowners follow fish protections. It specifies that when there is an HPA violation, WDFW must first try to get voluntary civil compliance by providing expert assistance. In April 2020, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted rules to implement this new law.

WDFW biologist performs compliance patrol of un-permitted projects on the shoreline of Hood Canal as part of a 2018 study project.

The department is now creating a statewide program to help landowners resolve potential issues and ensure construction projects are complying with HPA requirements. This program will also help water users protect fish by properly installing and maintaining fish screens on their water diversions.

However, WDFW does not have the capacity to provide additional coordination to landowners and contractors for their construction activities. Improving the effectiveness of HPAs will require dedicated staff to conduct site inspections and provide technical assistance.

The department is requesting $2.5 million during this legislative session to help fund this work throughout the 2021–23 biennium budget.

The Governor’s proposed 2021–23 budget partially funds this request. However, there is a an ongoing funding gap of $500,000 per biennium, which may slow the department’s ability to implement these improvements.

Providing technical support to landowners and contractors

Non-compliance of HPA requirements, intentional or accidental, hurts orca, fish, and fishing opportunities. While there are criminal situations where actions cause significant and intentional harm to habitat, most non-compliance issues are easily corrected in the moment with technical assistance.

WDFW wants to help people comply with the law. Our best chance of doing that is to have dedicated inspectors at construction sites during key points of work so they can fix non-compliant issues quickly and avoid damage to fish and their habitats. Preventing or correcting issues early in the project also reduces construction costs as it is often more difficult to remove or redo a non-compliant structure.


Tom McBride, Legislative Director

Randi Thurston, Habitat Program Compliance Division Manager



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.