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Skagit County Ag-Critical Areas Ordinance

Washington counties are required by state law to designate and protect critical areas-wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently-flooded areas, and geologically-hazardous areas. Preventing stream pollution is critical for downstream recreation and shellfish farming. Fish and wildlife habitat areas and wetlands are especially important to healthy salmon and endangered Orca whale populations. Some counties have chosen to protect these critical areas using mandatory buffers-strips of land bordering the critical area where farming is not allowed-but Skagit County has taken a different approach.

Skagit County protects critical areas in areas of agricultural activity in the following ways:

  • If the land is zoned Ag-NRL or RRc-NRL and the agricultural activity qualifies as "ongoing agriculture" pursuant to the definition in Skagit County Code 14.04.020:
    • the ag activity is exempt from the standard buffer requirements;
    • the ag activity must "not harm or degrade" critical areas (SCC 14.24.120(3)); and
    • the ag activity must comply with specified Watercourse Protection Measures (SCC 14.24.120(4)).
  • If the land is zoned Ag-NRL or RRc-NRL and the agricultural activity does not qualify as "ongoing agriculture," the County's standard critical areas ordinance applies. See SCC 14.24.
  • In all other areas, the County's standard critical areas ordinance always applies.
  • In all zones, the County also protects critical areas in areas of agricultural activity through the Voluntary Stewardship Program. Even with adoption of the Voluntary Stewardship Program, agriculture is subject to the County's Critical Areas Ordinance as described above.

Skagit County updated its Ag-Critical Areas Ordinance in December 2011.

No Harm or Degradation

Skagit County Code 14.24.120(3) requires agricultural activities to:

  • Comply with the state water pollution control laws;
  • Comply with the requirements of any total maximum daily load water quality improvement projects established by the Department of Ecology ;
  • Comply with the State Hydraulics Code and Hydraulics Code Rules (RCW 77.55 and WAC 220-110);
  • Comply with the Watercourse Protection Measures described below;
  • Not significantly degrade fish habitat below baseline levels.

Watercourse Protection Measures

Our Ag-CAO establishes some simple standards that are designed to protect streams and wildlife habitat from pollution, runoff, and degradation. If we want to keep our flexible system and avoid one-size-fit-all buffers, it's important we follow these common-sense rules. Read below, or download our Watercourse Protection Measures brochure (663kb PDF).


  • Keep livestock out of the water. Livestock access to watercourses must be limited to only the amount of time necessary for watering or crossing. Watering facilities or access must be constructed consistent with NRCS standards. NRCS does not allow water gaps on impaired streams.
  • Keep waste or sediment out of the water. You must conduct your livestock or dairy operations without contributing waste or sediment in violation of state water quality standards.
  • Keep your pasture vegetated. Maintain enough cover sufficient to avoid contributing sediment to watercourses. Avoid overgrazing near waterways.


  • Keep manure out of the water. You may not put manure anywhere it is likely to be carried into a watercourse. Between October 31 and March 1, you may not spread manure within 50 feet of a watercourse, or anywhere on bare ground (unless permitted by a dairy nutrient management plan or other limited conditions).
  • Keep nutrient levels appropriate. Don't over apply nutrients, so that the amount that passes through the soil below where they are used by plants is minimized.
  • Apply chemicals consistent with all label requirements.


  • Design roads and structures to avoid contributing sediment.
  • Keep agricultural equipment from causing bank sloughing or other failures. Don't operate equipment too close to the watercourse.
  • Wherever possible, construct V-ditching only to drain into watercourses that don't contain fish. Always avoid contributing excess amounts of sediment to the watercourse.


  • Conduct regular maintenance between June 15 and October 31. This work window is best for fish. Some exceptions may apply.
  • Keep excavation spoils away from the bank. Prevent bank failures and ensure drainage from spoils won't contribute sediment.
  • Ensure mowing doesn't disturb soil or sediments. Ensure that the cut vegetation does not block water flow.

Technical Assistance Available

Skagit Conservation District and other entities are available to assist agricultural operators with farm and resource management. Learn more at our Voluntary Stewardship Program webpage.

Photo by Pfly, CC BY-SA.