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West Coast Governors Agreement

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health is a commitment by the executive branches of the California, Oregon and Washington state governments to pursue seven common goals to improve the health of their shared coastal ecosystem.

After the agreement was signed in 2006, the governors ordered their staff to create an action plan to achieve these goals. In broad terms, the action plan would include strategies for developing new information about the ecosystem, seeking policies to address threats to the ecosystem, and fostering greater environmental stewardship among the public.

The agreement did not create any new legal authorities or budget appropriations, meaning the states had to come to consensus on how best to direct the states’ existing resources and where to look for additional resources.

MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Focus on health of the ecosystem across political boundaries and scales.
  • Complexity: Commitment to basing actions on best possible science after extensive information-gathering.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The West Coast Governors’ Agreement commits California, Oregon and Washington to a long-term partnership to jointly achieve the following seven goals:

  • Clean coastal waters and beaches.
  • Healthy oceans and coastal habitats.
  • Effective ecosystem-based management.
  • Reduced impacts of offshore development.
  • Increased ocean awareness and literacy among the region’s citizens.
  • Expanded ocean and coastal scientific information, research and monitoring.
  • Sustainable economic development of coastal communities.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations


The three governors assigned the following executive-level staff to lead their state’s respective efforts:

  • California: Brian Baird, assistant secretary for ocean and coastal policy, California Resources Agency
  • Oregon: Jessica Hamilton, natural resources policy advisor, Office of the Governor
  • Washington: Bob Nichols, senior natural resources policy advisor, Office of the Governor


At the request of the three governors, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and its Cabinet Committee on Ocean Policy named the following three representatives to address the agreement’s priorities:

  • Usha Varanasi, science and research director, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Alexis Strauss, water division director, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Joan Barminski, deputy regional director, Minerals Management Service

Key Parties

The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health has identified the following potential partners:

  • Tribal communities
  • Local government agencies
  • State coastal programs and resource management agencies
  • Natural estuary programs
  • National estuary research reserves
  • National marine sanctuaries
  • Ocean observing system regional associations
  • Academia
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Marine industries
  • Businesses
  • Public citizens


Program Structure


A project coordinator will provide project management, strategic planning services and administrative support. It will be a contract position through the California Natural Resources Agency and was being developed as of spring 2010.

Executive Committee

The Executive Committee includes the three state lead designees and three federal lead designees. It will inform and help guide the progress of the Action Coordination Teams, ensure appropriate communication to carry out the plan’s recommended actions and maintain the effort’s overall focus on the health of the West Coast’s ecosystem.

Action Coordination Teams

Action Coordination Teams (ACTs) are workgroups established by the Executive Committee.  ACTS are  created to address or recommend activities using the best available science to accomplish specific portions of the action plan. Currently, 10 ACTs have been formed. They do not supersede agency authorities, but illuminate a path across the three states to accomplish the action plan. Their membership includes experts from governments across the region, interest groups, and members of the public.

Federal Working Group

Co-led by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal working group will work with the states on implementing their recommendations.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

Historically, state ocean and coastal management programs and policies in California, Oregon and Washington were conducted on an issue-by-issue basis and were not well-coordinated across local and state jurisdictions. Data and findings were not shared in a timely fashion.

In 2003 and 2004, the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released reports that recommended improved coordination among government bodies as well as the management of oceans on an ecosystem level. Those reports lead to a meeting between California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire who acknowledged that the states of California, Oregon and Washington faced the same challenges in protecting the health of their coasts and needed to work together to meet those challenges on an ecosystem-based scale.

The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health was signed in 2006 and has resulted in a multi-state partnership to create high-level coordination of policy, information and programming.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The coastal ecosystems of California, Oregon and Washington are crucial to providing economic and recreational opportunities to citizens of those states. For example, the state of California estimates the value of economic activity tied to the coast at $46 billion, reflecting at least 370,000 jobs.

These ecosystems include wetlands and kelp forests that absorb nutrients and capture sediments from the land, protecting ocean water quality. They also serve as important nurseries and habitat for marine life and protect shoreline communities from floods and storms.


Threats to the ecosystems include:

  • Sea level-rise and increases in storm activity from climate change
  • Hypoxia-fueled ocean dead zones
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Polluted water run-off
  • Marine debris such as trash and derelict fishing gear


Major Strategies

Some of the workplans are still being developed, but broad strategies that have emerged so far include:

  • Develop a consensus estimate on sea level rise and resources containing state-of-the-art adaptation strategies for natural and built environments.
  • Conduct coastal community planning and development modeling projects with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in two communities in each state, focusing on polluted runoff, low-impact development and other sustainable approaches to controlling and improving coastal water quality.
  • Implement a framework to guide the location of off-shore renewable energy facilities that considers environmental impacts.
  • Launch a Marine Debris Alliance to oversee the execution of a “Marine Debris Strategy” (still in development) to guide removal projects.
  • Provide educators with the guidance and tools on the use of existing resources to improve students’ understanding of the ocean ecosystem.
  • Coordinate and facilitate a comprehensive seafloor mapping effort among the three states to help coastal managers and stakeholders.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

Annual Reports

The states will provide annual status reports to the public that measure progress in achieving the goals set by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health.



Plan of Action

The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health has resulted in the development of a consensus-based, priority-setting workplan that identifies specific actions to accomplish specific goals. It is backed by timelines and benchmarks, which can be used to hold the states accountable for making progress to implement the plan’s recommendations.


Although the plan was developed by staff of the administrations of California, Oregon and Washington, the effort has established a high-level partnership with the federal government through its Executive Committee, which will ensure communication to potential funding partners, a necessary step in the execution of many of the plan’s broader recommendations.


Website Links

West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health: