Preparing for Climate Change on State-Owned Aquatic Lands in Washington State

Rachel M. Gregg Kathryn Braddock
Posted on: 4/29/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is incorporating climate change adaptation strategies into its internal activities; one effort to achieve this was the creation of an adaptation strategy for the Department’s Aquatic Resources Program. This strategy recommends that DNR build its adaptive capacity and take near-and-long-term actions to incorporate climate change into its activities. Additionally, DNR has cooperated with other state agencies in the formulation of a statewide adaptation plan and has also released an internal climate resilience plan.


The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is directed by statute to manage state-owned aquatic lands by: (1) encouraging direct public use and access; (2) fostering water-dependent uses; (3) ensuring environmental protection; (4) developing opportunities for the utilization of renewable resources; and (5) generating income from use of aquatic lands. DNR generates income by selling the rights to harvest renewable resources such as wild geoducks and shellfish. In 2018, DNR brought in nearly $37,000 in revenue from aquatic leases and the state geoduck fishery. This revenue is used to manage and restore aquatic ecosystems as well as fund local projects.

In 2009, the Department’s Aquatic Resources Program drafted a strategy to address the projected impacts of climate change to the 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands under DNR management and how management will need to be adjusted to address these impacts. Projected impacts of concern to state-owned aquatic lands include changes in air and water temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and erosion, among others.

DNR has a legal obligation to prepare for both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change as it holds these lands in the public trust. Building off of the 2009 strategy, in 2020, DNR released an internal Climate Resilience Plan to incorporate climate change into its programs and activities. The Climate Resilience Plan highlights five climate-related risks to DNR’s coastal aquatic responsibilities:

  1. Damage due to coastal flooding and sea level rise
  2. Harm to aquatic species due to ocean acidification
  3. Declining salmon and orca populations
  4. Threats to shellfish and wild stock geoduck survival, reproduction, and recruitment
  5. Threats to aquatic reserves, eelgrass beds, and kelp forests

DNR was also part of the 5560 Interagency Working Group, working with five other state agencies (Ecology, Agriculture, Commerce, Fish and Wildlife, and Transportation), to develop the 2012 Washington State Climate Change Impacts Response Strategy. DNR was co-leader, along with the Department of Agriculture, on a Technical Advisory Group focused on planning for Natural Resources – addressing wildlife risk, pests and diseases, pressures on water supply and availability, and biodiversity and genetic preservation.


As part of the 2009 strategy, interviews were conducted with directors in the Aquatic Resources Program to solicit input on how climate impacts might affect management activities; the results indicated that climate change will negatively affect DNR’s management of aquaculture, overwater structures, log booming and storage, dredged materials, invasive species, and derelict vessel removal, among others. A pilot vulnerability assessment of DNR’s role in the state’s wild geoduck fishery was conducted to better understand how DNR could improve its efforts to make the program more resilient to climate change. Results concluded that the fishery, an important economic resource, will likely be degraded by climate change. DNR addressed the vulnerability of the fishery and the ecosystem upon which it depends in its 2020 Climate Resilience Plan.

The Climate Resilience Plan recommends a number of adaptation actions, however a timeline for the implementation of these actions is still being developed. While DNR does not have any climate change adaptation-specific projects, it is focusing on collecting scientific data to support future adaptation actions and policies. Current DNR projects that indirectly address or support recommended actions include:

  1. Aquatic Stewardship Measures
  2. Leasing Decisions and Adaptive Management
  3. The Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account
  4. The Aquatic Lands Restoration Team
  5. The Aquatic Assessment and Monitoring Team Research Toolbox
  6. Acidification Nearshore Monitoring Network (ANeMoNe)
  7. Tidal Inundation Modeling – Bathymetric Surveys

Outcomes and Conclusions

DNR is working to implement adaptation actions in its Aquatic Resources Program and throughout its internal activities. DNR is also in the process of creating a group to develop an official guide to climate projections to be used by the Department.

Political restrictions and belief-related barriers can pose challenges in implementing or planning for climate adaptation actions. To address these barriers, DNR is working to build the science that informs strategy implementation, helping support recommendations for landowners, policies, leases, and plans. This, coupled with outreach, stewardship, and citizen science efforts, will help to bridge the gap between science and the community.

Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA)
Adaptive Management for Aquatic Resources
Aquatic Stewardship
Aquatic Lands Restoration Team
Aquatic Assessment and Monitoring Team Research Toolbox
Acidification Nearshore Monitoring Network (ANeMoNe)
Tidal Inundation Modeling


Gregg, R. M. and Braddock, K. N. (2021). Preparing for Climate Change on State-Owned Aquatic Lands in Washington State [Case study on a project of the Washington Department of Natural Resources]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated May 2021)

Project Contacts

Position: Strategic Advisor to the Deputy Supervisor of Aquatics

Affiliated Organizations

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aims to provide professional, forward-looking stewardship of our state lands, natural resources, and environment, and leadership in creating a sustainable future for the Trusts and all citizens. DNR is a Washington State agency that protects and manages 5.6 million acres of state-owned land that the people of Washington own. Much of this land (3 million acres) is state trust land that provides revenue to help pay for construction of public schools, universities, and other state institutions, and funds services in many counties.

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