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Project: Developing Statewide Capacity for Wetlands Assessment

Background and Objectives

Billions of public and private dollars have been invested in the protection, restoration, creation, and enhancement of wetlands and riparian areas throughout California. However, statewide monitoring is needed for effective assessment and tracking of wetland and riparian acreage and condition by resource managers, regulators, elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, and the public. To address this problem, the State of California initiated the development of a statewide wetlands monitoring program called the Wetlands Demonstration Project or WDP. The need for such a program was supported by two national reports: the 2001 National Research Council report “Compensating for Wetland Losses under the Clean Water Act,” which called for the replacement of current wetland assessment procedures on a project-specific basis with “science-based, rapid assessment procedures” and the National Wetland Mitigation Action Plan which called for improvements in wetland monitoring, project tracking, and follow-through in evaluating compensatory mitigation.

The project goal was to improve state capacity to evaluate its “No Net Wetland Loss Policy” through the implementation of a standardized suite of data collection and assessment tools. This program demonstrated the implementation of the wetland and riparian assessment toolkit in various state agency (regulatory and non-regulatory) programs.


This project was initiated in 2008 and completed in 2011.


Targeted activities for the WDP included:

• Creation of a Steering Committee to oversee project activities and develop state policy. (In particular, the Committee developed policies on the minimum set of data required to track projects via standardized data transfer formats. They also specified the methodology used to evaluate the performance of the State’s “No Net Wetland Loss” policy.)

• Update of CRAM, eCRAM, and Wetland Tracker to reflect recommended revisions and feature enhanced functionality.

• Coordination with state agency partners to develop standardized data transfer formats to track projects and provide consistent guidance for reporting on wetland and riparian extent and condition for a variety of protection, restoration, and mitigation projects.

• Creation of regional wetland tracker databases in Southern California and the Central Coast, for addition to the already existing San Francisco Bay Wetland Tracker.

• Assessment of status and trends in estuarine wetlands statewide.

• Assessment of status and trends of streams and associated riparian areas in three demonstration watersheds.

• Completion of a statewide wetland inventory and initiation of riparian habitat mapping.

• Update of the State of the State’s Wetlands report.


With regards to the WDP as a whole, a final project report was issued detailing progress on toolkit development and implementation, recommended next steps, and status of funding to address these recommendations. Coordination among agencies has been formalized through the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup. The Workgroup produced an overall strategy for statewide wetland and riparian area monitoring and assessment, which has been endorsed for use by the California Water Quality Monitoring Council. Wetland and riparian mapping standards have been developed and are being used to produce the California Aquatic Resources Inventory (CARI), which forms the base layer for the California Wetlands Portal. Pursuant to the recommendations of the report, SCCWRP and its statewide partners  developing a probability-based mapping program to assess status and trends of wetland extent and distribution for the State of California. Wetland and riparian protection policies have been issued including definitions and wetland classifications, and components of the statewide monitoring program. Standard operating procedures were drafted for wetland and riparian habitat mapping, and the state wetland inventory was updated. The California Rapid Assessment Method for Wetlands (CRAM), has been integrated into several statewide efforts through production of a user manual, a guidance document for agency implementation, training, and improved accessibility of eCRAM and the statewide CRAM database. A statewide project tracking form was produced, and the California EcoAtlas was populated and enhanced for statewide use. Finally, the wetland toolkit was demonstrated in three watersheds.

The perennial estuarine wetland assessment found that California has 44,456 acres of salt marsh, 77 percent of which is found in the San Francisco Bay Estuary. The rest is equally distributed among the estuaries and coastal lagoons in the South, Central, and North Coast regions. Land use practices along the California coastline over the last 200 years have drastically decreased the amount of estuarine wetland and changed the sizes, shapes, and distances among wetlands. In urbanized estuaries, many wetlands are impacted by intensive land uses and bounded by levees. This has an overall downward effect on wetland health scores. Eighty-five percent of the statewide acreage scored within the top two categories of CRAM index scores (medium to excellent health), largely owing to the San Francisco Estuary. CRAM index and attribute scores showed a general decline from north to south related to greater southward urbanization along the coastline, increased diking, and changes in water and sediment supplies. Based on these findings, the study recommended specific management actions.

Historical (left) and present (right) distribution of wetlands in the San Francisco Estuary

Ongoing efforts to coordinate wetland assessment for the state will take place through the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup and the Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Program (WRAMP).


This project was conducted in collaboration with the San Francisco Estuary Institute; California State Resources Agency; State Water Control Board; Regional Water Quality Control Boards 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, and 9; California Coastal Commission; California State Coastal Conservancy; Department of Fish and Game; and Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District.


Survey of Estuarine Wetlands in California using Rapid Assessment. January 2009 presentation to SCCWRP member agencies. Overview of statewide assessment using CRAM, and goals/directions of the program.

Fact Sheet

The Status of Perennial Estuarine Wetlands in the State of California. Summary results of the perennial estuarine wetland assessment from the State's Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program.

For more information on Developing Statewide Capacity for Wetlands Assessment, contact Eric Stein at (714) 755-3233.
This page was last updated on: 7/2/2014