State of the Beach/State Reports/WA/Beach Description

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The Washington shoreline is combination of open ocean sandy beaches, rocky shores, and the more protected Puget Sound bluff shorelines.

Washington's coastal zone includes the rugged outer coast, which includes habitats ranging from coastal bluffs and offshore rocks to cobble and sand beaches. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,000 square miles of Washington’s northern outer coast (including areas in federal waters) and encompasses a productive upwelling zone off the coast. Washington’s coastal zone also includes Puget Sound and the western reach of the Columbia River, which together constitute two of the three largest estuaries that are part of the west coast-wide large marine ecosystem known as the California Current. Puget Sound is part of the National Estuary Program and is also home to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Washington’s coast is also home to many native American tribes and a number of significant cultural resources.

Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency

Brian Lynn, Supervisor
Coastal and Shorelands Section
Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program
Washington Department of Ecology
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
(360) 407-6224

Coastal Zone Management Program

In June 1976, NOAA approved Washington’s Coastal Zone Management Program (WCZMP or Coastal Program), the first approved program in the nation. The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) is the lead coastal management agency, and the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program (SEA) is responsible for administering the WCZMP. The WCZMP headquarters and the Southwest Regional Office are located in Lacey, the Northwest Regional Office is located in Bellevue, and a small field office is located in Bellingham. Each regional office houses planners and permit coordinators.

The Washington coastal zone includes the state’s 15 coastal counties that front saltwater, including Wahkiakum County on the Columbia River. The Shoreline Management Act applies to the shorelines of the State which includes all marine waters, all lakes twenty acres and larger, all streams and rivers with a mean annual flow of twenty cubic feet per second or more, land areas within 200 feet of the waters, and associated wetlands. The primary authority for the Coastal Program is the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 which requires local governments to develop and implement Shoreline Master Programs that regulate streams with mean annual flow of over 20 cubic feet per second, lakes over twenty acres, and marine shorelines. All cities and counties within Washington’s coastal zone are currently or will soon begin undertaking a process to update their shoreline master programs in accordance with the State's Shoreline Master Program Guidelines that were updated in 2003. The Coastal Program provides training, financial and technical assistance to local government decision-makers on shoreline planning, wetlands management, and coastal hazards. The Coastal Program also preserves important coastal habitat by identifying key opportunities and securing necessary funding to conduct priority restoration and acquisition projects.

Wetlands degradation, population growth, the effects of coastal erosion response, and flooding are among the major challenges facing the Washington coastal management program. To counter these problems, the program oversees most activities on the state's shoreline except agriculture and activities related to single-family homes. Tourism, shipping, fishing, and shellfishing are coastal industries vital to the state's economy.

There have been several major initiatives launched recently that seek to protect Washington's Coast. The first is the Puget Sound Partnership, an initiative launched by Governor Christine Gregoire and tasked with developing a plan to protect and restore Puget Sound. Another major initiative was the Washington State Ocean Policy Work Group. This initiative was established by the Governor’s Office in order to: 1) summarize the status of Washington’s ocean resources and their value to the state’s economy, cultural identity, and quality of life and 2) provide recommendations for improving protection and management of the state’s ocean resources. Their final product was Washington's Ocean Action Plan.

NOAA's latest evaluation of Washington's Coastal Management Program can be found here.


  1. Washington Department of Ecology, Coastal Zone Management Program website: and Hagen, Carlos B. 1958. "Lengths of Shoreline in Washington State." Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia.
  2. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217. 1999.

State of the Beach Report: Washington
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