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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Regulations: Standards Critical Areas Logo

The Whatcom County Shoreline Management Program (SMP) update reflects the adopted goals, policies and action items of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan as they relate to land use and natural resource management, regulatory review, inter-agency coordination, public involvement, etc.  The new SMP improves coordination and integration between the SMP, the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, and other natural resource regulations. 

Among the goals of the SMP are no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and shoreline restoration.  The concept of no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes has been broadly addressed through SMP goals, policies and regulations that integrate implementation of development standards, mitigation sequencing, vegetation conservation within CAO buffers, evaluation of cumulative effects, etc.  The restoration of shoreline ecological functions is a new section within the SMP.  This section encourages coordinated and cooperative restoration of impaired shoreline ecological functions and processes through comprehensive planning, non-regulatory actions and voluntary actions. 

Shoreline Jurisdiction
Area Designation Map LinkThe Shoreline Management Program regulates all streams with a mean average flow of 20 cubic feet per second, all lakes over 20 acres in size, all marine shorelines, all associated wetlands and floodways. The program also has jurisdiction over all surface water and extends landward for 200 feet from the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) of the shoreline. Within these areas, all projects must be consistent with policies and goals of the Whatcom County SMP.

Shoreline jurisdiction along the Nooksack and Sumas Rivers would be tied to the physical (geomorphic) floodway rather than the modeled FEMA floodway (existing SMP).

Additionally, an analysis of Whatcom County lakes using high-resolution aerial photography revealed Jorgensen Lake (26 surface acres) as a shoreline of the state as it exceeds the state-defined 20-acre threshold for shoreline jurisdiction. Also, based on a 1996 analysis of stream flow completed by USGS several minor adjustments are proposed to shoreline jurisdiction along streams in Whatcom County (see proposed shoreline map).


No Net Loss of Ecological Function is the environmental protection standard that local shoreline management programs must achieve. This standard is to be accomplished through:

  • SMP regulations, including evaluation of reasonably foreseeable “cumulative impacts” to shoreline functions resulting from development allowed by the SMP, and
  • individual permit decisions over time

Restoration - Improve shoreline ecological functions over time through:

  • identification of shoreline areas with existing degraded
  • identification of potential restoration opportunities
  • coordination with existing or likely restoration projects, programs and funding sources that contribute to restoration
  • preparation of a comprehensive strategy ensuring local restoration objectives are met over time as a result of non-regulatory
    and voluntary actions

Vegetation Conservation – SMP standards must conserve sufficient shoreline vegetation to protect and maintain shoreline functions over time.

Public Access and Recreation – Preserve the public’s opportunity to enjoy the physical and aesthetic qualities of shorelines of the state to the greatest extent feasible.

Shoreline Modification – Jurisdictions are to limit modifications in number and extent and it should only be allowed where need is demonstrated. Preference is given to modifications that utilize soft solutions and have less impact on shoreline ecological functions. Mitigation is to be required for identified impacts.

  • New subdivisions must demonstrate that shoreline stabilization and flood hazard reduction measures will not be required for
    the life of the development
  • New development on steep slopes must be set back sufficiently
  • For water-dependent uses, stabilization measures are only allowed with a demonstrated need
  • Repair and maintenance of existing structures is allowed

Non-conforming uses include lawfully established development, uses and structures that pre-date the initial adoption of the Shoreline Program and/or any subsequent amendments and no longer conform to shoreline regulations. The SMP includes clearer provisions for non-conforming uses and development, allowing for continued equitable use. Additionally, new provisions have been added to allow for the development of non-conforming lots that were lawfully created prior to the adoption of the SMP.

Other Agencies that have jurisdictional control over shorelines may include: the Lummi Indian Nation; the Nooksack Tribe; the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and Fish and Wildlife Service; the Washington State Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources.