Critical Areas Regulation

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The MRSC provides the following overview: The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires all cities and counties in Washington to adopt regulations protecting “critical areas” in order to preserve the natural environment, wildlife habitats, and sources of fresh drinking water. Critical areas regulation also encourage public safety by limiting development in areas prone to natural hazards like floods and landslides.

RCW 36.70A.030(5) defines five types of critical areas:

  • Wetlands
  • Areas with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water
  • Fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas
  • Frequently flooded areas
  • Geologically hazardous areas


  • Although there are legal details of timing, legislative intent is for critical areas in the shoreline zone to be regulated under the Shoreline Management Act.
  • Gates 2016 provides on overview of a series of lawsuits between 2003 and 2011 around the relationship between SMP and GMA.