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Alki Beach in Seattle during a king tide in 2022. Credit: Holli Margell (CC BY 4.0)

Climate change adaptation and resilience tools

The following article was commissioned by the Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead (HSIL), a cross-agency team co-led by the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.

The effects of climate change can already be seen in more frequent and larger wildfires like those in Canada and California, hotter summers, and stronger flooding events. To prepare for the challenges climate change will bring and to assist Puget Sound residents in adapting to our new world, we require tools that provide climate insights at the local and state level. In this post we highlight some Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead funded projects that investigated regional and local climate hazards and developed tools to communicate results and support planning.

Incorporating sea level rise into local planning and projects

In 2022, Washington Sea Grant and Coastal Geologic Services released a Puget Sound parcel-scale sea level rise vulnerability assessment to support planning and risk mitigation efforts. The project team developed a quantitative framework that calculated two index scores: 1) an exposure index for sea level rise hazards and 2) a sensitivity index that reflected the extent coastal assets would be affected by those hazards. These two indices, when added together, provide a physical vulnerability score. The project team calculated scores for 111,249 parcels. About 2,900 parcels had the highest scores, suggesting that physical vulnerability of communities in Puget Sound can be reduced by directing our efforts to a relatively small number of parcels region wide. These parcels are distributed throughout the study area, though clusters are found in low-lying river deltas.

Maps showing physical vulnerability assessment results (left) and socially modified results (right) with the top 500 scoring parcels highlighted in yellow. Credit: Prioritizing Sea Level Rise Exposure and Habitat Sensitivity Across Puget Sound Final Technical Report by Coastal Geologic Services and Washington Sea Grant

The project team coupled these physical vulnerability scores with results of a complementary social vulnerability assessment developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. The community-level index provides insights about people and places that may be predisposed to adverse impacts from sea level rise related risks. Adding social vulnerability scores to physical vulnerability scores resulted in higher scores for the most parcels in the study area and lower scores for about 4,000 parcels. Many increases occurred in the southern portion of the study area where the population is larger (e.g., the lower Duwamish River valley).

You can read more about this work on the study webpage where you can find the technical report and request access to the project geodatabase.

Another resource for local restoration planners seeking to incorporate sea level rise in nearshore projects is the 2018 report Sea level rise considerations for nearshore restoration projetcs in Puget Sound. This report provides a framework for incorporating sea level rise in the siting, design, and maintenance of nearshore habitat restoration projects.

Supporting local governments with climate change

To support climate planning in the North Olympic region, the North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council (NODC) worked with regional partners to develop a list of climate change priorities and create a resource to advance those priorities. The result was a Climate Action Toolkit designed for planners within local and Tribal governments and nongovernmental organizations. This toolkit helps to reduce barriers for integrating climate change strategies into existing policies by providing a list of direct climate actions, decision-making tools, and sample codes, regulations, and plans. The tool kit covers transportation, energy and housing, and water supply and infrastructure. These tools may support climate change planning projects both within and outside the North Olympic region.

NODC Climate Action Toolkit webpage.

Integrating climate change into floodplain planning

The Climate Impacts Group provided floodplain managers in Snohomish and Whatcom County with resources to increase climate-resilient planning in their watersheds. Both counties support Integrated Floodplain Management (IFM), an approach that seeks to develop and implement multi-benefit floodplain projects to reduce community flood risks, restore natural floodplain functions, and recover aquatic habitat. In Snohomish County, the Sustainable Lands Strategy aims to create a balance between restoring vital land for salmon while protecting agricultural viability. In Whatcom County, the Floodplain Integrating Planning process focuses on addressing fish, farm, and flood needs in the Lower Nooksack River.

The Climate Impacts Group developed two guides to help with integrating climate change into reach-scale IFM plans:

Climate Adaptation for Floodplain Management: An Introductory Guide. This guide aims to help users identify the best ways to manage flooding so that farm, fish, and floodplain outcomes can be improved. The seven-step guide directs stakeholders and managers to 1) ask how climate is expected to change in the regions, 2) reflect on the community’s values, 3) conduct a vulnerability assessment, 4) prioritize action plans, 5) set goals and make a plan, 6) act on the plan, then 7) evaluate and adjust.

Technical Guidance: Quantifying Climate Change Impacts. This technical companion to the introductory guide answers questions about how to quantify sensitivity and exposure, manage uncertainty, locate the latest climate data, and identifies things to consider when seeking new data.

  • Community-Scale Sea Level Rise Assessment – NTA 2016-0089
  • Parcel-Scale Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment – NTA 2018-0685
  • North Olympic Climate Action Toolkit – NTA 2018-0952
  • Integrating Climate Change in Multi-Objective Floodplain Management – NTA 2018-0741

The 2012-2013 Action Agenda for Puget Sound developed by the Puget Sound Partnership established three initiatives to tackle multiple issues critical to Puget Sound recovery:

  • habitat protection and restoration
  • shellfish bed protection and recovery
  • stormwater pollution prevention

To manage this effort, agency and institutional partners assembled into three Strategic Initiative Lead (SIL) teams, charged with bringing people and ideas together to improve the water, habitat, and communities. Read more about the Puget Sound Recovery Program.

The role of HSIL is to implement plans that improve the health of the rivers, forests, shorelines, and estuaries that make up Puget Sound.

This article has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement PC-01J22301 through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.