The Puget Sound region is an inland area of the Pacific Northwest in Washington State, including Puget Sound, the Puget Sound lowlands, and the surrounding region roughly west of the Cascade Range and east of the Olympic Mountains. Puget Sound is a large salt water system of many estuaries, fed by highly seasonal freshwater from the Olympic and Cascade mountain watersheds.
The collaborative represents the central Puget Sound Region consisting of King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties. The region includes two urban center cities (Seattle and Tacoma) as well as suburban and rural cities and two large ports. The region has a combined population of nearly four million residents and two million jobs and is forecast to grow to over five million residents and nearly three million jobs by 2040. Key industries in the region include aerospace, information technology, life sciences and global health, military, and maritime. Minorities, or non-white persons, comprised 31.2 percent of the region’s total population in 2010. The region is becoming more diverse and includes a significant and growing population that is foreign-born. Overall, the Central Puget Sound region has higher incomes compared with Washington State and the country as a whole; however, the income gap between the highest earners and the number of people living in poverty is significant. Median income is about $58,000, and the poverty rate is 11.7 percent.
The most significant climatic changes projected for the Pacific Northwest will be increase in base sea level and high tides, increase in average temperatures, minimum temperatures, and the frequency and duration of extreme heat events, reductions in snowpack and shifts in the timing of stream flow, wetter winters, drier summers, and more extreme precipitation events. Flooding, heat waves, and extreme high tides are not new challenges in the Central Puget Sound, however, climate change will shift the frequency, intensity, and timing of these events, and what is now considered an extreme event will become the new normal. Lack of preparation for these events will significantly impact the community’s economy, infrastructure and health. Therefore, it is critical that the region is preparing for the impacts of a changing climate.
ABOUT THIS COLLABORATIVE
The regional climate collaborative in the central Puget Sound represents organizations that have experience working on climate change issues, from a variety of mitigation and adaptation perspectives including: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), City of Seattle, Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, University of Washington, Port of Seattle, King County, and Pierce County.
The Puget Sound Regional Council, the City of Seattle, King County and the Port of Seattle have been leaders in the effort to reduce emissions leading to climate change and incorporating such mitigation activities in their respective planning processes. The University of Washington has done extensive research and analytical work on the impacts of climate change in the region and in Washington State, and is supporting the adaptation planning efforts of cities, counties, tribes, and transit agencies around Puget Sound.
The collaborative’s vision for the future is to bring together key government, academic, and business stakeholders to begin addressing resiliency more effectively in planning activities and identify key shared implementation needs.
Seeking opportunities to align planning around common data sets and management strategies will facilitate longrange regional planning, coordination across agencies, and community engagement.
As the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Puget Sound region, PSRC has a history of bringing diverse interests to the table to address issues such as transportation, growth management and economic development. The structure is already in place to expand current work and engage key stakeholders in the planning process – beginning with the region’s long-range transportation plan and infrastructure needs, as well as the region’s economic development strategy. This format will then engage and influence the planning and implementation of climate resiliency within the individual organizations and government bodies around the table and the region. The vision of the regional collaborative begins with this key team of stakeholders – the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the region’s largest city, interests from three of the four counties involved in emergency management, economic development, and climate change planning, the region’s largest port, and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group.
The collaborative hopes to begin addressing the unique issues facing the region from climate change, including changes in sea level rise, temperature, and precipitation and their impacts on infrastructure, emergency response, economic development, health, and quality of life.
PROMISING PRACTICES OR INNOVATIONS
Flooding, heat waves, storm events and extreme high tides are not new challenges in the region and there are regional strategies in place for response. However, climate change will shift the frequency, intensity, and magnitude of these events. Examples of how the region has been responding to these increasing threats include:
- PSRC, Seattle, King County, Pierce County, and the Port of Seattle have been mapping projected sea level rise and evaluating the impact on infrastructure. Seattle‘s most recent mapping work has incorporated consideration of vulnerable communities against a range of social variables and the region has refined time of emergence and return periods to better inform infrastructure planning.
- Seattle has recently conducted local public opinion research to better understand local values and attitudes related to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to test messages. This information is being used to supplement best practices built on national studies to craft a more compelling local messaging framework.
- King County leads the King County-Cities Climate Collaborative (K4C), a partnership between the county and nine cities to coordinate and enhance the effectiveness of local government climate and sustainability efforts. The K4C members collaborate on outreach to define, refine, and use messaging and tools to engage decision-makers and the public; coordination to adopt consistent standards, benchmarks, strategies and goals; solutions to share local success stories and challenges; and funding and resources to support projects and programs.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
The region features strong leadership that values protecting quality of life, while at the same time ensuring basic needs are met and the economy thrives. A few of the key challenges the Puget Sound climate collaborative will face include:
- This diverse region includes rural areas, small cities, suburban and larger metropolitan cities, four ports, six transit agencies, and the state highway and ferry system – combined with an aging infrastructure and a lack of reliable funding with jurisdictions and organizations facing different economic, growth and transportation needs. These needs and lack of resources will make it particularly challenging to present new ideas and investments related to climate resiliency, unless efficiencies and co-benefits of those investments within the larger context can be demonstrated.
- Though the region has a robust planning process, there is often difficulty finding a path forward to short-term implementation. Given the critical nature of this topic, it will be a challenge to move forward quickly with strategies and objectives resulting in short-term actions within the long-range planning environment.