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A 2006 Pilot Study of Hydraulic Permit Compliance, Implementation, and Effectiveness in Region 6

Category: Licensing and Permits - Hydraulic Project Approval

Date Published:  2006

Number of Pages: 37

Author(s): Timothy Quinn, Stephen Kalinowski, Robert Bicknell, Craig Olds, Margie Schirato, David Price, Chris Byrnes, David Kloempkin, Robert Barnard


We conducted a pilot study of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) program compliance, implementation, and effectiveness by reviewing 58 recently completed HPA permits. The review process evaluated projects by measuring the type of provisions in the permit (provision rate); the compliance rate, which measured the type and number of provisions that were followed in the field; and the implementation rate, which measured project outcomes regardless of whether those outcome s were associated with provisions. In addition, we qualitatively judged the effectiveness of projects to meet standards defined in the language of the Hydraulic Code rules (WAC 220-110). Effectiveness was ranked on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high) based on three criteria: 1) Ability of the provisions to protect public resources, 2) Ability of provisions to meet no net loss of habitat/function, and 3) Ability of mitigation to compensate impacts beyond avoid and minimize.

We evaluated five project types including 15 fresh water bank protection, 14 from marine bank protection, 14 from culvert installation, 9 from bridge construction, and 6 marine over-water projects. Including process, travel, and evaluation time, a single HPA assessment required approximately seven person hours to complete. In general, permits contained approximately 75% of the important and applicable provisions for each permit type with marine bank protection tending to have the highest and culvert projects the lowest provision rates. Provision, compliance, and implementation rates were highest for marine bank protection followed by fresh water bank protection and then culverts. Furthermore, compliance and implementation rates tended to be higher for activities that protected the project proponents’ investment than other activity types.

Our judgment of permit effectiveness suggested that achieving “no net loss” standards was difficult probably because of the nature of HPA projects. Even when well- implemented (high provision, compliance, and implementation rates) projects were often judged to decrease fish habitat function, albeit in small quantities. Part of our inability to meet “no net loss” is undoubtedly related to the dual nature of the Hydraulic Code (Chapter 77.55 RCW) to protect fish life while allowing for the protection of personal property and human health. We conclude that the HPA program currently protects fish and fish habitat in large measure, and without the HPA program, we would see substantially more loss of fish life or habitat associated with the 4,000 projects permitted annually. However, the agency’s goal of achieving no net loss of habitat function and values (WDFW POL-M5002) is difficult to attain solely through the HPA permit process. It also appears that the overall effectiveness of projects could be improved as indicated by our survey data showing that certain projects of each type currently achieve relatively high effectiveness scores. While making immediate improvements in the provision rates is relatively straightforward, improving compliance and implementation rates as well as project effectiveness may require additional resources or alternative strategies. Additionally, until we institutionalize an adaptive management approach to the HPA program, we will struggle with answering the big questions – How well does the permit process protect public resources at a site? – and, How do we protect public resources from cumulative effects of multiple projects?

While there is a need to better understand how the HPA program works across the state, we propose to expand the HPA compliance and effectiveness monitoring to Puget Sound nearshore as part of the Governor’s focus on recovering Puget Sound by 2020. A large amount of modified shoreline has been permitted by WDFW in accordance with Chapter 77.55 RCW, yet information on compliance and effectiveness of HPA activities in the nearshore, including mitigation associated with projects, is mostly lacking. This new work will measure compliance and effectiveness of the HPA permit program in the Puget Sound nearshore, including the overall performance of mitigation projects, and make recommendations for improvements within an adaptive management framework. The study will recommend practical and immediate ways to improve compliance and effectiveness of HPA permits in Puget Sound, and more effective means of meeting the goals of mitigation programs, and measuring success.