SAMP Background

Why is a Special Area Management Plan important?

A Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) is an innovative regulatory program tool. A SAMP allows the Corps to make better permitting decisions. It take a holistic approach to protecting sensitive aquatic resources across an entire watershed through integration of public and stakeholder involvement in establishing policies, standards, and mechanisms of implementation. The SAMP approach incorporates non-regulatory aspects of watershed management alongside regulatory permitting to support aquatic resource protection. The Corps’ goal in initiating a SAMP is to develop a framework for decision-making that balances aquatic resource protection and reasonable economic development.

The SAMP formulation process joins together Watershed Management, Permitting, and Conservation

Why create a SAMP?

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States. The project review and permitting associated with regulatory functions most often occur on a project-by-project basis, which complicates an assessment of cumulative impacts. In contrast, the SAMP approach allows the Corps to achieve higher environmental sensitivity through a process of comprehensive review of the aquatic resources across a watershed of focus facilitate the evaluation of cumulative loss of resources over time. The formulation of a SAMP supports decision making and long-term planning for regulatory actions under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act that involve large areas, complex projects, and sensitive aquatic resources.

How is a SAMP developed?

The Corps devised a multi-step process that involves coordination and collaboration with multiple interested stakeholders over many years. Though each SAMP will follow its own trajectory, the foundational process is the same.
  1. The first step of a SAMP is to identify and assess the riparian ecosystem within a given study area. The assessment of ecosystem condition in a watershed context is used to score the of the riparian ecosystem’s degree of modification in terms of hydrology, habitat, and water quality.
  2. Establishing aquatic resource management objectives is done collaboratively and concurrently with identifying the potential permitting needs and objectives of the regulated public.
  3. The next step is to identify sensitive aquatic resource areas whose conservation would help to maintain the overall integrity of the watershed.
  4. Building on all the data and analyses, the Corps is able to develop a watershed-specific permitting strategy and a complementary aquatic resource conservation strategy.
  5. Moving towards a plan for implementation entails the development and assessment of alternative strategies.
  6. Memorializing a SAMP for implementation occurs after the preparation of an environmental assessment and a decision document.

Formulating a SAMP is a multi-stepped process.

Where are there SAMPs in the Los Angeles District?

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Los Angeles District Corps of Engineers initiated SAMPs in portions of six watersheds within three southern California counties. Focused on riparian ecosystem, the District’s SAMPs were conducted in geographic areas of special sensitivity under intense development pressure and with local interest and support.
  • The first SAMPs were initiated for the San Diego Creek Watershed, and the San Juan Creek and western San Mateo Creek Watersheds in Orange County.  In Orange County, the implementation of a SAMP framework with specific permitting procedures and mitigation policies remain in effect.
  • In Western Riverside County, the Corps took the opportunity to initiate a SAMP for the San Jacinto River Watershed and the Santa Margarita River Watershed, alongside ongoing regional efforts, namely, the multi-species habitat conservation planning and regional transportation planning programs. Though no final SAMP framework was developed, the Corps compiled extensive data and analyses in a geospatial database and summary report that are available resources to inform the Corps’ decision-making processes about permitting and mitigation.
  • A SAMP for the Otay River Watershed in San Diego County was initiated with the County of San Diego as a facet of the County’s broader watershed management program and following a species conservation planning effort. Though no final SAMP framework was developed, the Corps compiled the extensive data and analyses in a geospatial database and summary report that are available resources to inform decision-making processes, i.e. permitting and mitigation.
Orange County San Diego Creek watershed, San Juan Creek, and portions of San Mateo Creek watersheds


Western Riverside County



Portions of San Jacinto and upper Santa Margarita watersheds


San Diego County



Otay River watershed


Are other agencies involved?

Other public agencies participated during each of the SAMPs’ formulation processes as appropriate to the particular SAMP study area.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board.  The Counties of Orange, Riverside, and San Diego were involved in the watersheds under their respective purviews.