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Building Cities in the Rain

Building Cities in the Rain: Watershed Prioritization Guidance for Stormwater Retrofits

The Department of Commerce, in consultation with a work group of interested parties, has developed a guidance document that describes a process for prioritizing watersheds for stormwater retrofits, Building Cities in the Rain: Watershed Prioritization for Stormwater Retrofits. It is intended to provide a tool for local governments to target investment in stormwater retrofits in a way that leverages opportunities for salmonid habitat restoration and facilitates redevelopment in urban centers. The Building Cities in the Rain guidance describes a three-step watershed prioritization process for stormwater retrofits, and provides sources of data for prioritization. After public comment in April 2016, the final guidance was released on September 27, 2016.

Click here to view and download Building Cities in the Rain: Watershed Prioritization for Stormwater Retrofits.

Companion Guidance - Stormwater Control Transfer Program: Out of the Basin

The Building Cities in the Rain stormwater retrofit prioritization guidance can be used on its own for prioritizing receiving waterbodies for voluntary retrofits, or it can be used as companion guidance to Ecology’s Stormwater Control Transfer Program: Out of the Basin - SECOND DRAFT guidance as part of an infill or redevelopment strategy to increase capacity in urban centers. The Ecology document describes an alternative program (a Stormwater Control Transfer Program) that Western Washington State municipal stormwater Permittees (Permittees) can implement to satisfy permit requirements associated with flow control triggered at new and redevelopment sites.  Ecology is issuing a second draft of its guidance on stormwater control transfers for public comment in concert with this companion draft guidance being issued by the Department of Commerce. The Ecology guidance was made available for comment until April 30, 2016. The comment period is now closed.

Summary of the project

The Washington State Department of Commerce, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program, partnered with the South Central Sound Puget Caucus to identify approaches to managing stormwater in urban centers.

Problem Statement:
Current regulatory and legal requirements, including stormwater management, provide important environmental protections, but can also make development in urban centers more expensive than in less densely developed areas.  The purpose of this project is to achieve density in designated urban centers while meeting stormwater objectives, equity for all communities, economic development, and other goals of the Growth Management Act (GMA).  This project aims to identify approaches the region can use to increase infill development in urban centers while meeting stormwater requirements and GMA mandates.

The complex challenge of meeting growth management and stormwater goals involves many disciplines, such as: water resources management, fisheries, stormwater science and engineering, environmental advocacy, architecture, real estate development and finance, land use, transportation, environmental planning,; and urban design, among others.  Infill and redevelopment can include costs for demolition, brownfield remediation, historic preservation, aging infrastructure repair, and stormwater infrastructure. These types of costs can ultimately make infill and redevelopment projects more expensive than developing a similar project in a less developed area. As a result, some developers may choose to look outside of concentrated growth centers for lower cost strategies or options for their projects. However, directing redevelopment to dense urban centers reduces sprawl and protects air and water quality, while accommodating the growing population in Puget Sound.  A clear understanding of the elements that contribute to the challenge is needed to effectively identify solutions.


  • Develop recommendations for incentives and cost-effective approaches to encouraging infill and redevelopment within urban centers while addressing stormwater problems in developed areas.

  • Create alternatives within existing stormwater regulations to improve water quality in a way that works in concert with achieving growth management’s goal of supporting dense urban centers.


1.      Collect and organize existing information presented to PSRC Growth Management Policy Board.

2.     Meet with builders, land use planners, local and state stormwater managers to identify challenges in implementing growth management and NPDES stormwater regulations, and suggestions for solutions.

3.      Identify innovative strategies and approaches that jurisdictions have taken to address the challenge. (Contract for assistance with design firm to create portfolio of successful efforts).

4.      Recommend an approach that jurisdictions can use to address challenges encountered in infill and redevelopment to manage stormwater in designated urban growth centers and effectively recover aquatic ecosystem health. The approach would recognize the role that urban density can play to reduce impacts to water quality, support effective aquatic ecosystem protection and recovery, and preserve greenfields. Develop guidance for jurisdictions on how to prioritize stormwater mitigation areas for the construction of stormwater facilities with a nexus to the areas targeted for development. The guidance will include where and how a jurisdiction may obtain adequate information to implement this approach successfully (including watershed or other approaches).  This guidance will complement and integrate with Ecology’s intent to develop guidelines for a stormwater control transfer program.

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