Working with Local Government to Identify Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Concerns

By Nicole Faghin, Washington Sea Grant

When Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Department of Ecology embarked on the Washington Coastal Resilience Project (WCRP)[1] in 2016, we wanted to know how we could rapidly increase local governments’ ability to support coastal resilience. We recognized we not only need good science and effective state guidance, we also needed to test our ideas with local communities.

The City of Tacoma and Island County offered to be those pilot communities, providing a larger urban environment and a more rural county, respectively to look at what support might be needed to address coastal flooding and erosion hazards exacerbated by future conditions. Here are the issues and concerns identified and some products we anticipate creating as part of the project.

Island County staff from Planning, Public Works, and Public Health identified a range of ways in which coastal flooding currently affects their operations. Public Works talked about impacts to road infrastructure and drainage, Planning noted challenges issuing permits for bulkheads and erosion control measures, and Public Health identified concerns about saltwater intrusion on septic systems and drinking wells, among other issues. Mapping locations of these impacts for all three departments demonstrated “hot spots” for Island County. Brainstorming ideas about staff needs led us to the conclusion it would be helpful to develop a communication toolkit to include online tutorials, examples of model language to address sea level rise in policy and planning documents, fact sheets to use for communicating with the public, mapping to demonstrate potential impacts of sea level rise, and development of contact list of experts to call on different topics.

Tacoma staff identified a different set of interests to be addressed. Following up from a Climate Risk Assessment conducted in 2016, Tacoma identified key sea level rise issues needing to be addressed. What is the connection between Tacoma’s frequently flooded critical areas and sea level rise? How will sea level rise affect planning for capital facilities in the low-lying area known as the tide flats, home to Tacoma’s port and industrial area?

Focusing on the tide flats, Tacoma will take a look at how sea level rise should be incorporated into the city’s capital facilities planning process. Tacoma will also evaluate future flooding conditions, compounded by wave impacts along the area known as Ruston Way. We are conducting wave studies, identifying historically flooded areas along Ruston Way, and determining how sea level rise projections might affect the planning process for future development along this stretch of the shoreline.

Working with our two pilot communities we will develop guidance that will be made available to communities throughout the region.  We will develop a communications toolkit, courses to be offered through the Coastal Training Program, guidance to be provided by state and local agencies, and access to other resource materials.  Through all of these efforts, we hope to rapidly increase the capacity of local governments to address coastal resilience in their communities.

[1] The Washington Resilience Project is funded by a NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grant with partners including Washington Sea Grant, Washington Department of Ecology, Island County,  City of Tacoma, King County, Padilla Bay National Estuary Research Reserve, NOAA Office of Coastal Management, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Coastal Geological Survey, University of Oregon, University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington Department of Earth and Space Sciences and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

Are you interested in participating in the APA Washington Climate Initiative? We are looking for new members to join our effort. If you are interested please contact Nicole Faghin.  

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