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Estuary Planning

Statewide Planning Goal 16

The aim of Oregon Statewide Planning Goal 16 is to protect the long-term values, diversity, and benefits of estuaries and associated wetlands. At the same time, the goal directs local governments to provide for appropriate restoration and development of these resources. The goal relies on a classification system that specifies the level of development allowed in each estuary. All local governments with authority over an estuary must prepare and adopt a management plan and land use regulations according to four classifications:

  • Deep-draft development for estuaries with maintained jetties and channels more than 22 feet deep;
  • Shallow-draft development for estuaries with maintained jetties and channels up to 22 feet deep;
  • Conservation for estuaries without a maintained jetty or channel within or adjacent to an urban area with altered shorelines;
  • Natural for estuaries without a maintained jetty or channel not adjacent to an urban area and with little development.

Of Oregon's 22 major estuaries, three are classified as deep-draft development estuaries, eight shallow-draft development, six conservation, and five are natural estuaries. Seventeen other estuaries are considered minor estuaries and are classified as natural or conservation.

Estuarine Management Units

Estuary Classification mapEach estuarine area contains management units. The boundaries of the management units are determined by the types of resources in the area and the extent of past alterations. There are three types of management unit: natural, conservation, and development units. Each type is "a discrete geographic area, defined by biophysical characteristics and features, within which particular uses and activities are promoted, encouraged, protected, or enhanced, and others are discouraged, restricted, or prohibited."

Certain uses are considered permissible for each unit, while other uses may be allowed if they meet the Goal 16 resource capability test. This test determines the impact of a proposed use and whether the resources and ecosystem can assimilate the impact and continue to function.

In estuaries classified as natural, only the uses permissible in natural management units may be applied. In estuaries classified as conservation, only natural and conservation management units may be applied. In shallow and deep draft estuaries, all three types of management units may be applied.

Natural Management Unit

Natural units are managed to protect natural resources, such as areas with significant fish and wildlife habitat, especially those that are the least altered or developed. They contain extensive salt marshes, tideflats, seagrass and algae beds, and a variety of fish and wildlife. Permissible uses include low-intensity water-dependent recreation, research, passive restoration, bridge crossings, and limited use of riprap. Uses that may be allowed under the resource capability test include boat ramps, aquaculture, habitat restoration, pipelines or other utility crossings, and bridge crossing support structures.

Conservation Management Unit

The conservation unit is applied to areas that have been altered from their natural state. While their natural resources and habitat may be smaller or less significant than those in natural management unit areas, resource protection is still important for their long-term quality and health. A variety of development is allowed as long as there are no major alterations. Uses that may be allowed under the resource capability test include high-intensity water-dependent recreation, marinas, certain water surface uses that do not require dredging or filling, and aquaculture.

Development Management Unit

Development units are reserved for areas with fewer natural resources that have been the most altered. These are typically applied to deep-water areas close to shore, navigation channels and subtidal areas suitable for disposal of dredged materials. In addition to uses allowed in natural and conservation management units, permissible uses include dredging and filling, water-dependent commercial activities, and dredged navigation channel and water storage areas that support industry, commerce, and recreation. Resource capability uses include non-water dependent or related uses and mining.

Further Reading


Meg Reed
Coastal Policy Specialist
Phone: 541-514-0091