WRIA 1 Nearshore and Estuarine Assessment and Restoration Prioritization (NEARP) Project

​​​The City of Bellingham and Coastal Geologic Services recently completed a prioritization tool for estuarine and marine nearshore restoration and protection efforts in WRIA 1. The goal of this project was to assess conditions and develop and apply a restoration and protection prioritization tool, the results of which would guide restoration and protection efforts for the estuarine and marine shores of WRIA 1.

Project Objectives

This project is intended to create a Prioritization Tool that can be used to:

  • Inform the efforts of the many diverse groups involved in estuarine and marine nearshore restoration and protection activities in WRIA 1.
  • Facilitate improved communication and partnerships amongst these entities and create opportunities to leverage additional funding.
  • Provide sound scientific information to inform policy decisions at the local and regional scale.


The Tool

This science-based tool can be used to identify protection and restoration strategies and priority actions within in the WRIA 1 estuarine and marine nearshore environment. Priority actions are categorized by type (protection, restoration, or enhancement) and ranked based on their ability to address threats and stressors to key ecosystem components, nearshore processes and ecological attributes. The tool is straightforward and user-friendly and is capable of assimilating new information as it arises. The tool integrates best available science at both the local and regional scale with planning efforts related to estuarine and marine nearshore protection and restoration strategies.

WRIA 1 marine and estuarine nearshore conditions were assessed by reviewing literature, local and regional data, digital imagery such as LIDAR, and vertical and oblique aerial photography. Data were reviewed and brought into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) where available to assess current conditions and for potential utility in the prioritization. Conceptual models, peer reviewed studies, and multi-scaled maps and assessments produced by the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP), Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) were key data sources.


Assessment results highlighted the unique conditions in WRIA 1, particularly the diversity of coastal landforms and the interconnected nature of nearshore processes, structures, and vital habitats which communally support the nearshore ecosystem. The scale and magnitude of anthropogenic alterations to WRIA 1 nearshore and estuarine ecosystem processes were also assessed. Results showed that the most widespread changes since historical conditions were the loss of natural shorelines resulting from shoreline modifications and other stressors. A considerable length of the study area is considered “artificial” or is so heavily degraded that it no longer functions or resembles the historical configuration. Numerous tidal barriers found in the Nooksack River Delta and marine nearshore were associated with coastal roads and the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) rail causeway. The widespread nature of shore modifications and tidal barriers has resulted in considerable degradation to sediment supply and tidal flow processes along the WRIA 1 nearshore.

Project Partners

There are approximately 15 different entities engaged in research, restoration and/or protection of the estuarine and marine nearshore environment of WRIA 1. These entities have produced numerous studies, assessments, tools and reports, including a geographically focused nearshore characterization and prioritization tool (most notably, a Whatcom County Marine Resources Committee (MRC) initiated restoration prioritization tool for Point Roberts, Birch Bay, and Chuckanut Bay). However, there has not been a comprehensive effort that documents, analyzes, and synthesizes the all the existing information with the purpose of developing and applying a prioritization tool for estuarine and marine nearshore restoration and protection actions across the entire WRIA 1 nearshore. This project was initialed by project partners to directly address this data gap.

Key partners include:

  • ​Bellingham Bay Action Team (BBAT). BBAT was formed in 1996 and is a cooperative partnership of 15 federal, state, tribal and local stakeholders. Its mission is to develop a new cooperative approach to expedite sediment cleanup, source control, and habitat restoration for sediment cleanup sites around Bellingham Bay. Partners include: WA Dept. of Ecology, City of Bellingham, Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribe, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, WA Department of Natural Resources, WA Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Partnership, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • The City of Bellingham (COB). COB has been proactive in habitat restoration in both freshwater and marine waters. To date, the City of Bellingham has implemented eight large-scale, in-water habitat restoration projects and over 50 riparian restoration projects covering over 65 acres.
  • Whatcom County Marine Resources Committee (Whatcom MRC). The Whatcom County MRC was established by the County Council in 1999 to protect and enhance the local marine environment and contribute to the protection of the marine environment of the Northwest Straits. The Whatcom MRC is one of seven MRCs established in the Northwest Straits region as part of the federal Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative adopted by the US Congress in that year.

Technical Advisory Group Members

  • Eric Carrabba, Whatcom Land Trust
  • Treva Coe, Nooksack Tribe
  • Eric Grossman, USGS
  • Steve Hood, Depart. Of Ecology
  • Jill Komoto, Lummi Nation
  • Erica Stroebel, Whatcom County
  • Doug Thompson, WDFW
  • John Thompson, Whatcom County
  • Brian Williams, WDFW

More Information

Contact Renee LaCroix, Ecology and Restoration Manager, rlacroix@cob.org, 360-778-7966