Guiding growth-healthy watersheds: Black Lake Basin water resource protection study

An EPA-funded study by the Thurston Regional Planning Council identified recommended strategies and actions to protect and improve water quality and aquatic resources in the Black Lake Basin. 

Black Lake Basin water resource protection study report cover
Black Lake Basin water resource protection study report cover


Black Lake and the land that drains into it was one of three Thurston County basins identified for a focused study as part of the Guiding Growth – Healthy Watersheds program. Thurston County is located at the southern end of Puget Sound, and boasts a wealth of natural resources, including large forested areas and many streams and water bodies. In part, we owe our relatively good water quality to the fact that the county is less developed than other urbanized areas in the Puget Sound region. Thurston County is also home to the state capitol and the metropolitan area surrounding the cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater. It is one of the fastest growing counties in Washington State. According to the 2013 population forecast developed by Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC), we can expect an additional 110,000 people to move into our region over the next 20 years. 

This growth will bring many benefits to the economy and residents of Thurston County, yet there are downsides to such a rapid increase in population and the demand for new homes, roads, and services that it entails. Development in sensitive areas can damage or disrupt important ecosystem services provided by our watersheds, including the filtering and purification of water, regulation of water flows, protection from floods, and creation of habitat for plants and animals. Careless development in these areas could lead to lakes, streams, and beaches that are unhealthy and unusable for both people and wildlife. One response is to plan for this growth by identifying ecologically important areas at a landscape scale, and considering how development can occur in a way that preserves the ecosystem services that are important within specific watersheds.

Project Background

Thurston County teamed with TRPC and the cities of Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey to integrate watershed science into local policies. The aim of the study was to investigate ways to accommodate projected population growth while preserving water resources in areas impacted by that growth. This collaborative effort is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of that agency’s efforts to protect and restore water quality in Puget Sound. The project initially focused on areas within the Totten, Eld, Budd/Deschutes, Henderson, and Nisqually Reach watersheds. The watershed planning process began in 2010.


Thurston Regional Planning Council. (2015). Guiding growth-healthy watersheds: Black Lake Basin water resource protection study. Report. 66 pgs.  

Download the full report