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Island County > Planning > Wetlands

​What are Wetlands?

Wetlands are areas that, under normal circumstances, are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater frequently enough and long enough to support vegetation that is adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps (forested), marshes (non-forested), bogs (peat) and other similar areas, and may be either freshwater or estuarine (both saltwater/freshwater) systems.


Wetlands Retain W​ater: When rain arrives after periods of dry weather, wetlands act like a sponge, absorbing the water and releasing it slowly to connecting channels and estuaries. This provides more time for water to infiltrate into aquifers which replenish drinking wate​​r supplies. During rainy periods, some wetlands even prevent flooding and erosion downstream by retaining heavy runoff.

Wetlands Purify Water: Wetland soil, together with the plants, microbes, and organisms living within, acts like a filter to trap and detoxify pollutants that are carried into the wetland by runoff or wind. As long as this capacity is not overwhelmed by too much pollution at once, water leaves most wetlands cleaner than when it entered. Through this filtering process, both groundwater and surface water are cleaned.

Wetlands Provide Habitat: Wetlands provide a rich habitat. In Island County, wetlands sustain at least 150 species of birds, 44 mammals, 8 amphibians, 6 reptiles, over 4 species of salmonids, as well as over 249 plant species.

Wetlands add to Rural Character: Wetlands provide open spaces that add to the rural character and scenic vista​​​​s of our communities. Healthy wetlands maintain property values, provide incentives for tourism, and are essential for sustaining safe shores and waters for recreational activities on Camano and Whidbey Islands


Wetlands are identified by these traits:
  •   Hydrology- saturated soils for part of the year
  •   Hydric Soils - soils that formed under conditions of saturation, flooding or ponding
  •   Vegetation- predominance of water-tolerant/dependant plants

For help identifying wetlands on your property, use Island County's Wetland I.D. Guide


Other Resources:
Wetland Identification Guide


Is your property impacted by wetlands or wetland buffers? To learn more about your property click on this link to the Getting Started with Critical Areas page to view known wetlands on Island County's Critical Area Maps and for other helpful information.



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