Wetland & stream reconnaissance

Use this page to identify potential wetlands and other waters during early planning and scoping stages of projects. The terms “wetland reconnaissance (recon)” and “wetland inventory” are synonymous and include identification of streams and other waters. Recon results in an email or a Wetland and Stream Reconnaissance Memo.

Recon provides informal, qualitative information and helps planners avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands and other waters, and informs National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation. Biologists must meet the minimum qualifications for wetland biologists (pdf 565 kb) to perform recon on Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) projects.

“Right-size” the information gathered during recon to meet the needs of your project. Recon:

  • Identifies potential wetlands and other waters.
  • Approximates their locations.
  • Helps project engineers, designers, and other staff plan for mitigation.
  • Informs the wetland and stream assessment.

Depending on the level of information needed to address project needs, recon may also include estimation of wetland category, stream water type, and buffers.

Biologists don’t complete recon for every project. Some projects may skip this step and begin documenting existing conditions of wetlands and other waters with a wetland and stream assessment. Either a recon or assessment is required to complete the Environmental Classification Summary (ECS) to fulfill NEPA. Learn more about the ECS on our Categorical Exclusions process page.

Follow the steps on this page to complete recon:

Before using this page, understand mitigation sequencing and early planning considerations on our Wetland mitigation page.

Read Chapter 431: Wetlands in the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Environmental Manual for policies regarding wetlands.  

After using this page, see our Wetland & stream assessment page for information on how to complete assessments.

Request wetland & stream recon

The Project Engineer Office (PEO) works with environmental managers and permit coordinators to request a recon from a WSDOT regional or headquarters environmental office or consultant. The PEO should plan enough lead time for the biologist to conduct field work during the growing season, typically between March and October, depending on your location.

The PEO provides the biologist:

  • Project description, purpose, and location
  • Project plan sheets - showing all areas of potential effect or proposed project alternatives, and existing features such as roadway and right of way
  • Written right of entry - for access to non-DOT property, if within the project area

Prepare for field work

Prepare for field work by estimating presence of sensitive resources in the project vicinity by reviewing background information. Our biologists use the WSDOT GIS Workbench and external partners may access this information from other data sources. Review the following to prepare for field work:

For some small or simple projects, review of background information may provide enough information for recon without a field visit.

Avoid poisonous and harmful plants when working in the field. See Poisonous plants of Washington State (pdf 6.5 mb) or take the poisonous and harmful plants of Washington State e-learning on the Environmental training page. To print in booklet form, select Poisonous plants of Washington State booklet (pdf 7.6 mb), from print settings select “print on both sides of paper” and “flip on short edge.”

Perform field work

Make a brief, informal field visit(s) to qualitatively identify presence/absence of potential wetlands and other waters. Create a sketch map to document estimated location of waters.

Follow our Sensitive areas naming conventions (pdf 126 kb) when identifying wetlands and other waters on plans and figures.

If determined necessary by the project team, estimate wetland categories based on Ecology’s Wetland Rating Systems.

Use the Determining jurisdiction of wetlands and other waters page to determine which agency has jurisdiction.

If you discover archeological materials or human remains during fieldwork, use the Cultural resources and wetlands (pdf 2.2 mb) document to comply with federal and state cultural resource laws and regulations.

Prepare an email or wetland & stream reconnaissance memo

“Right-size” the documentation to fit the needs of your project. For some small or simple projects, an email may provide appropriate level of detail. For other complicated or larger projects, the biologist prepares a Wetland and Stream Inventory Memo, which should include the following:

  • Project description, purpose, location - including local jurisdiction
  • Map of the study area/area of potential affect
  • Methods
  • Approximate wetland boundary and area
  • Approximate stream locations
  • Estimated locations of other waters
  • Map or plan sheet showing all identified waters and estimated area

Additional information provided for some projects may include:

Provide the recon email or memo to the PEO, environmental coordinator, and permit coordinator, who use the information to:

  • Plan for and document avoidance and minimization of impacts.
  • Determine potential unavoidable impacts.
  • Fill out the Environmental Review Summary (ERS). Learn more about the ERS on our Categorical Exclusions process page.