Some of our waterfront communities are perched at the edge of steep slopes formed long ago by grinding glaciers and since then by gradual wave and rain erosion. The result is spectacular views hovering over the water. The downside is that without proper care of your property’s drainage and storm water runoff there can potentially be a landslide in some areas.

There are many resources for waterfront bluff owners that explain how to protect their gorgeous investments, including resources I have collected together for you at my WaterHavens geotechnical resources page.

In November the Seattle Department of Planning and Development is providing two free meetings that will go over strategies for maintaining landslide-prone properties. They may be well worth your time if that applies to your property.

  • November 7th 10:00am to noon at South Seattle Community College’s Judge Warren and Nobie Chan Education Center (6000 16th Ave SW, Seattle)
  • November 21st 10:00am to noon at the Northgate Community Center (10510 Fifth Ave NE, Seattle)




The third and final round of public input periods to the King County Shoreline Management Program is happening now. If you live on or near the Sound, a lake, river, or even some wetlands, then this can apply to you and your property.

You can review the draft and also attend upcoming public open house meetings in Carnation (October 16th) and Covington (October 23rd). Public inputs will be accepted until Friday November 14th, via the meetings, email, or mail.

This will be the final opportunity for public input before the completed program is submitted to the King County Council in December.

King County watersheds map




Interesting set of recent events from the National Marine Fisheries Service: Since development near bodies of water can adversely affect salmon population – and salmon populations are important for the web of life food chain to endangered orcas – they have determined that the federal flood insurance program currently available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is illegal. Both salmon and orcas are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS logo
Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA logo
This affects future development for any properties determined to be within flood plains, and it can also affect current owners seeking this type of ongoing insurance. In many cases, getting flood insurance in flood plains is difficult and expensive without having the FEMA program to rely upon. New development may be cost prohibitive and current owners may be left without viable insurance options.

For more information, see this article in the Seattle PI. The reporter covers the usual areas that people think of as a “flood plain”: areas near rivers that can crest and flood at times of heavy flow. However, the article does not talk about the many other areas that can be considered flood plains. Even Puget Sound waterfront can be considered flood plains due to tidal/storm surges, and lake shores can rise and flood as well. The frequency of both is very low in comparison to rivers, but nonetheless official classifications and flood plain maps do exist for these areas. Both future development and existing properties along many other bodies of water than rivers could definitely be affected.

Next steps will reside with FEMA to create development requirements that will be more compatible with salmon populations, and this may allow for the resumption of the FEMA flood insurance program around the Puget Sound area. However these kinds of programs and development compromises can take quite a long time to develop, so it will be interesting to track the effects from this on local waterfront properties.

If anything, it makes existing waterfront homes more valuable since development options for new waterfront properties are further restricted. Relatively few waterfront home owners (especially on the Sound and lakes) actually purchase the FEMA insurance, so the downsides of lacking the insurance will likely be negligible except for cases where such insurance may be a requirement of a buyer obtaining financing.

We’ll see what happens…




King County has a Grant Exchange Program that brings together different local grant and technical assistance projects to protect watersheds and shoreline habitats. If your community has an idea for an applicable project, you can apply for up to $50,000 in assistance as well as implementation support.

The programs primarily target the following: watershed protection, habitat restoration, reforestation, salmon conservation, and natural resource stewardship. The Grant Exchange is described as a clearinghouse of grant and technical assistance programs offered by the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks with the goals of protecting and enhancing the environment, increasing community stewardship, and providing expertise and consultation to projects.

Last year King County awarded 69 stewardship grants totaling over $1 Million, and this amount leveraged the addition of another $2.4 Million to the grantees.

Deadline for applications is May 15th. Contact Ken Pritchard at 206-296-8265 for more info.




The state Department of Ecology has mandated that King County update its Shoreline Master Program by 2009, part of a review and overhaul of the over 30 year old Shoreline Master Program throughout the state. This update could have potential ramifications for waterfront properties, although it is generally expected that the recent regulations brought on by the King County Critical Areas Ordinance will already cover most updates that would be deemed necessary. King County has also taken a lesson from the sometimes controversial and contentious process that resulted from the Critical Areas Ordinance’s implementation, this time rolling out the process and drafts in a slower fashion with public inputs encouraged at each step. The Shoreline Master Program and CAO have the interests of the environment and larger community in mind, while sometimes these regulations may clash with the property rights interests of owners along shorelines who prefer more leeway in what they can do with their property.

The Shoreline Management Act applies to marine shorelines, rivers with a flow greater than 20 cubic feet per second, lakes larger than 20 acres, upland areas within 200 feet of these water bodies, floodplains, and wetlands associated with these shorelines. The act covers land use, public access, archaeological / historical resources, and ecology.

King County has recently distributed a draft map of areas where the Shoreline Master Program updates may apply. County representatives are also holding four public input meetings, two of which occurred last week in Carnation and Enumclaw. The next two are on Tuesday February 13 5:30-8:30 pm in Maple Valley and Thursday February 15 5:30-8:30 pm on Vashon Island. Public comments are also being accepted by mail, email, phone, or at the meetings.

The projected timeline for the next steps in the process includes a draft of the revised county plan for this June, a second updated draft in the fall, and a final version for presentation to the King County Council in March 2008. DOE requires that the county have a finalized plan completed and submitted by December 2009.




This week engineers and surveyors will be walking the beaches of Burien home owners to produce a “Base Flood Elevation Study” for determining normal water levels and to pinpoint potential flood hazard areas. They will be taking photographs, measuring bulkheads, and surveying aspects of the shoreline, but will not trespass onto upland property without owner permission first.

Most people think of rivers, reservoirs, and lakes for flooding, but large tidal water bodies can also be considered potential flood zones when storms occur (usually if timed with high tides) that raise the water level onto surrounding properties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establishes maps to show base flood elevations along the shorelines, and these can affect home owners who have or want to obtain flood insurance since the rates will be at least partly based on the flooding potential as described in these maps.

The study will be completed in April and made available to all local residents after FEMA approves the results. The study will be made available at Burien City Hall, and it will also be posted on the Burien city website.

For additional information you can contact Project Planner Morgan Wilson at 253-209-4746 or Burien Building Official Lee Bailey at 206-248-5523.




Public understanding of the need to protect the beauty and physical integrity of Puget Sound has gained ground, though the understanding that it already needs to be cleaned up for its (and our) long term health is less understood. It looks beautiful, so how can it be “dirty” or have pollution in it, some may say?

This increased awareness has occurred through efforts over the past year such as the Seattle PI’s investigative series “The Sound of Broken Promises” plus some initial notoriety and public outreach from the governor’s Puget Sound Partnership panel. People for Puget Sound and Puget Soundkeepers Alliance has performed a very important ongoing role for years, though their efforts have resulted more in maintenance of awareness levels (especially among those already interested, and some in the media) than significantly increasing awareness levels among the general public in large numbers. This new mass media coverage and big government focus will help these organizations expand their influence.

The recent Elway Poll regarding Washington state residents’ perceptions about the health of Puget Sound – and what they are willing to do to improve its health – was interesting if not surprising. There was a large divide of support depending upon proximity to the Sound itself, with increased willingness to make legislative changes (and pay for them) on the west side of the Cascades than on the east side. Of course. The real test is when changes affect people’s pocketbooks and their own back yards.

The most cost effective and timely changes may not be changes at all, except in execution. An important first step may just be tightening up on existing policies and regulations already in place or under consideration. This responsibility resides with the Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency, and I expect to hear more recommendations along those lines from the Puget Sound Partnership in the future. More than that will be needed, but it’s a first step that can move in parallel while others are being diplomatically crafted through the halls of politics and public opinion.

As a waterfront home owner, you can contribute in your own way and feel good about protecting your “front yard” (all that water out in front there). Increase filtering vegetation at your bulkhead, decrease paved surfaces and rain water run-off into your sound or lake, eliminate fertilizers and pesticides in your yard, and take a little bag or bucket with you next time you walk the beach to pick up just a few easy items of plastic and trash.

Sea kayaker in Puget Sound by Normandy Park




Have you checked out the Christmas Ships around Lake Washington, Lake Union, and the Sound this year? Definitely worth a look, especially the December 23rd finale with the Best Decorated Boat Contest at Gasworks Park on Lake Union. Come bundle up and watch the festive sights at the different locations. It’s a great way to enjoy your WaterHaven, or visit someone else’s!

In local waterfront news, proposed land use regulations still dominate the talk among local rural WaterHaven owners. Both the Critical Areas Ordinance and a new ruling related to federal flood insurance / salmon protection have stirred up the debate something fierce. Petition drives and court cases are underway opposing restrictions on property usage, while other local organizations are educating people about environmental and community benefits. This should be interesting to watch…

Also, a team of divers discovered a World War II era fighter plane in the bottom of Lake Washington; certainly a more intriguing find than the usual array of old anchors and lawn furniture. If you haven’t mustered the time or courage to take up diving around our waterways, I highly recommend it. The lakes can be interesting, but the life teeming along the shores of the Sound are especially fascinating and world class. Yes it’s rather cold, but modern wetsuits or – even better – drysuits can keep you warm enough for your short explorations into inner space. Check out the Activities section of WaterHavens.com for a listing of local scuba clubs to get you started.

Unlike normal holiday trends, the real estate market is still very active right now. Last month saw new highs, available inventory has declined 18% from last year, and there are more buyers than sellers out there. Accordingly, prices have risen and time on market has declined. Some of the better priced properties are still moving very fast. For the November general King County market, the average residential closed sales price was $399,464 (as compared to $368,496 for November 2003) and the average condo sales price was $238,508 ($223,735 for November 2003). Average time on market has shortened from 61 days to 49 days.

In the WaterHavens waterfront market, house sales ranged from a Federal Way walk-down home on the Sound for $299,950 to a Mercer Island Lake Washington home for $5,250,000, condo sales ranged from $145,000 for a Redmond condo on Lake Sammamish to a Kirkland Lake Washington condo for $900,000, and floating home sales ranged from $135,000 to $1,135,000. Waterfront and water view inventory is down across the board, but that is usual for this time of year and is amplified by the still hot market plus excellent interest rates. There are currently 216 waterfront WaterHavens available in our local area, and even more water view and water access WaterHavens.

Enjoy a WaterHaven! Our waterfront and waterview is the best in the world.