In June, Washington Sea Grant’s Ian Miller gave an introduction to the first objective of the Washington Coastal Resilience Project (WCRP): developing and communicating localized sea level projections using a probabilistic framework for Washington State. To assist local governments in using these projections effectively for shoreline planning decisions, the second objective of the WCRP, led by the Department of Ecology (Ecology), seeks to improve and coordinate the planning guidance of Washington state agencies (Ecology, the Department of Commerce, the Emergency Management Division, and others) so that local governments have a clear and comprehensive framework of planning tools available to address sea level rise.
To start investigating these questions, I synthesized seven surveys (see footnote) on climate change and sea level rise perceptions, preparation, and adaptation actions conducted between 2009 and 2016 in coastal Washington cities and counties and nationwide. These surveys were conducted for different purposes and directed toward different target audiences, but each was intended to identify climate change adaptation needs at the local level for state and federal agencies to better support communities. The surveys show that several factors are perceived as barriers to local adaptation action in Washington State, so improved guidance in these areas could be useful:
Barriers to Adaptation Action
- Lack of clear source of best available information on sea level rise projections and local impacts; lack of ability to identify vulnerable sites
- Lack of funding for development and implementation of effective local sea level rise adaptation plans
- Lack of political will to adapt and some skepticism about climate change and sea level rise
So the findings from this synthesis weren’t really shocking, but it did provide more evidence to support our approach to providing better guidance for Objective 2. Thus, in addition to Ecology’s institutional knowledge of what is needed to improve local-level planning, we have some idea of where to start with improving and coordinating state-level guidance. Moving forward, the Objective 2 team at Ecology has three streams of work.
- Work with Ecology, the Department of Commerce, the Emergency Management Division, and others to ensure that respective planning guidance documents identify a consistent source of best available information on sea level rise projections and impacts on existing hazards.
Most regional sea level rise projections that currently exist are not specific enough for planners to comfortably act upon and are referred to inconsistently (if at all) by different agencies’ guidance documents, and planners are conscious of these inconsistencies— the Objective 1 work is filling this gap and providing more robust information with which planners can make decisions. Objective 2 will ensure that state-level guidance for Shoreline Master Programs (SMPs), Comprehensive Plans, Critical Areas Ordinances, Hazard Mitigation Plans, and other local planning programs all point to the same information on sea level rise projections, impacts, and vulnerability assessment to reduce confusion or references to outdated information.
- Provide a more thorough account of planning policies and regulations that jurisdictions can use to adapt to sea level rise-- and how to implement them. Local jurisdictions seeking to identify adaptation actions for their communities would benefit from a more comprehensive "menu of options" showing the breadth of ways that Washington’s existing planning mechanisms can address sea level rise, through draft policy language where possible.
To work toward this goal, Ecology is currently updating its SMP Handbook Appendix A: Addressing Sea Level Rise in Shoreline Master Programs with improved draft policy language. Ecology is also planning in-depth interviews with jurisdictions that have made progress in planning for sea level rise to identify and evaluate the widest possible range of shoreline policy options and implementation strategies that local governments may use to prepare.
- Identify funding mechanisms that local jurisdictions can use to support adaptation. Beyond better data and planning guidance, local governments often need financial resources to proactively undertake adaptation actions. Assembling funding mechanisms that align with specific types of adaptation actions and providing assistance in producing competitive funding application packages would greatly benefit communities in planning and implementing sea level rise adaptation actions. During the next year, Ecology is working with the Department of Natural Resources’ Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (ESRP) and learning from other funding models like Floodplains by Design (FbD) to build natural hazards resilience objectives into funding criteria.
Finally, I’d like to point out that the data-, planning-, and funding-related challenges we’re facing here in Washington are common to communities in other developed nations facing sea level rise. I’m interested by research in Australia, for example, where case studies of local climate adaptation planning have identified quite similar barriers such as general lack of knowledge about what to do, and lack of funding/capacity to integrate adaptation objectives across planning sectors (see Smith et al. 2008 and Measham et al. 2011). And no one has found the silver bullet to solve these problems! So while our goal of creating a more resilient Washington is ambitious, we’re not alone: the state of climate adaptation planning practice is such that advances made and challenges identified by the WCRP are uniquely positioned to both inform and learn from the experiences of global peers— and that’s pretty exciting.
- Eastern Research Group, Inc. 2014. Final Report: Needs Assessment for Training in Climate and Hazard Adaptation. NOAA Coastal Services Center.
- Halvorsen E, Mooney J. 2014. Planning for Climate Change: Climate Adaptation Survey Results, Wahington State, 2014. Washington Sea Grant Technical Report WSG-TR 14-01, 20pp.
- Papendick H. 2011. Preparing for rising tides: coastal hazard risk perceptions and support for sea level rise adaptation in Washington. Master’s thesis, University of Washington.
- Washington Department of Commerce 2011 (unpublished data)
- Washington Coastal Training Program 2013, 2016 (unpublished data)
- Washington Sea Grant 2009 (unpublished data)