Filling Information Gaps for Coastal Resilience in Washington State

By Nicole Faghin

The Ten Big Ideas Initiative is an APA Washington Chapter program designed to bring about far-reaching and fundamental change on a variety of issues. In this series, The Washington Planner will focus on communities taking action to respond to climate change, providing Washington APA members with more information on the work being done, and how they can take action in their community. This installment describes a project funded by NOAA to help Washington coastal communities better prepare for impacts from sea level rise, storm surge and shoreline erosion.

With 3,067 miles of coastline and more than 45 coastal cities, Washington needs to prepare people, infrastructure, and fish and wildlife habitat for these hazards, which are forecast to worsen over time.  As part of a national effort, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office for Coastal Management recently awarded almost $1 million to Washington Sea Grant for a three-year project to assist coastal communities in Washington State facing significant risk from the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and shoreline erosion.

The new project will test approaches that show promise for broader success across the state, shaping statewide guidance and funding programs that help local governments build resilience to coastal hazards.

“The challenges confronting our nation’s coastal communities are incredibly complicated — effective solutions are going to require strong science, ingenuity and collaboration if they are going to safeguard and ensure the future vitality of our economy and valuable natural resources,” stated Dr. Jeffrey Payne, director of the NOAA Office for Coastal Management.

Washington Sea Grant (WSG) located at the University of Washington serves communities, industries, and the people of Washington state, the Pacific Northwest, and the nation through research, education, and outreach by identifying and addressing important marine issues such as those covered by this resilience grant.

WSG will lead a partnership of state and local managers and scientists to enhance coastal community resilience through research to fill critical information gaps, community pilot projects, and revised state guidance and restoration project design. The work will increase understanding of coastal risks and impacts and improve existing planning tools, to ensure that new information and approaches are shared with coastal communities across the state.

Two pilot communities included in this pilot project include Island County and the City of Tacoma.   “As a city with over 32 miles of coastline, we are at the forefront of challenges created by climate change. Even though many of these challenges will develop over time, the planning and research efforts must start now if we are going to be ready for these future challenges to our environment and infrastructure.” Jim Parvey, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Tacoma.

Washington project partners include Washington State Department of Ecology’s Coastal Zone Management Program, Climate Impacts Group and other UW departments, U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Island County Department of Natural Resources, City of Tacoma, Western Washington University and The Nature Conservancy.

“By working together to build on and leverage existing Washington planning and management resources, project partners hope to make real progress in addressing local vulnerability to coastal hazards and changing climate,” said WSG Director Penny Dalton.

The NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grant program implements a comprehensive regional approach using science-based solutions and relying collaborative partnerships to ensure success while expanding reach and impact.

While a wide variety of activities related to climate change are being undertaken throughout our urban, rural, and resource areas, information about these activities isn’t always easy to find. We need your help to get the word out – so send us your stories! And let us know not only “what” you’re doing, but “how” you generated necessary community support. Please send your information to any member of our team: Jill Sterrett, Lyn Keenan, Laura Hudson or Nicole Faghin.

Return to the June/July issue of The Washington Planner