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Climate Change


Adaptation Examples in the Northwest

Map of the Northwest including: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and the western portion of Montana.

Adaptation Examples in the Northwest

Key Points
  • The City of Olympia, Washington, is planning for the effects of sea level rise by developing new flood maps and assessing the potential impacts on stormwater infrastructure.
  • The Swinomish Tribe in Washington developed a Climate Adaptation Action Plan to help preserve their culture, economic opportunities, and environmental resources in the face of rising sea level and more frequent wildfires.
  • King County, Washington developed a Climate Action Plan that aims to consider climate across a range of decisions, especially those related to infrastructure and transportation.
  • Oregon and Washington established state adaptation frameworks to help local government address climate change impacts.




Federal and Regional


Efforts to prepare for climate change are underway in the Northwest. Many local and regional groups are already taking actions to adapt to projected declines in snowpack, streamflow changes, and sea level rise. Learn more about climate change impacts in the Northwest in the Northwest Impacts section.

Below are examples of ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change impacts in the Northwest. Following the examples, there are links to a number of adaptation plans, reports, and studies specific to the region. Both the examples and links are intended to be illustrative — they are not intended to be comprehensive.

Olympia, Washington plans for sea level rise

Aerial photograph of Puget Sound with a developed urban area in the foreground, water, and scattered green islands beyond the city.

Olympia, Washington is located on the southern end of the Puget Sound. Source: City of Olympia (2010) (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer

Downtown Olympia is vulnerable to coastal erosion and sea level rise. The city published its first assessment of sea level rise in 1993. [1]

In 2007, the Olympia City Council renewed its efforts to address climate change and sea level rise. According to a presentation by the City (PDF), Exit EPA Disclaimer the city has gathered more accurate information about land elevations; created maps that illustrate potential high tides, storm events, and sea level rise; assessed the impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and stormwater systems; and monitored changes in geology that would increase relative sea level rise.

For more information about the impacts of sea level rise in the Northwest, visit the Northwest Impacts section. For more information about adaptation strategies to deal with sea level rise and storm surges, please visit the Coasts Impacts & Adaptation page.

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Two maps that show three different levels of sea level rise. The first map shows Olympia, Washington where four feet of sea level rise would result in approximately one third of the developed land to be covered during a high tide. A second map shows that more than half of Harbor Island in Seattle, Washington would be covered during a high tide if there is four feet of sea level rise. With two feet of sea level rise, a much smaller, but still significant portion of Harbor Island would be covered during a high tide. View enlarged image

A significant portion of downtown Olympia, Washington would be at risk of flooding with projected sea level rise. Source: USGCRP (2009)

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community protects economic and cultural resources from the impacts of climate change

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community includes approximately 3,000 people from several Coast Salish groups that live on roughly 10,350 acres of tidelands, forested uplands, rural areas, and urban development in western Washington. In 2009, with the technical assistance of the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, the Tribe released the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative Impact Assessment Technical Report (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

Photograph of two men of the Coast Salish tribe paddling a traditionally decorated canoe.

The Coast Salish people of the Swinomish Tribe have a long history that relies heavily on coastal resources. Source: USGS (2009)

The Swinomish Climate Adaptation Action Plan (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer proposed strategies to address risks associated with forest fires and to inundation of coastal resources. Strategies included improvements to forest management policies and practices and a variety of options for protecting costal structures or requiring development to occur farther away from the coast.

For more information about adaptation strategies for coastal communities, visit the Coasts Impacts & Adaptation page. For more information about adaptation strategies for wildfires, visit the Forests Impacts & Adaptation page.

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King County, Washington releases a Climate Action Plan

Photograph of part of a road that has been undercut by excessive rain.

High flows on the Raging River during a November 2006 storm washed out a portion of Preston Frontage Road Bridge in King County, WA. Source: King County DOT (2006) Exit EPA Disclaimer

King County developed a Climate Action Plan (PDF) that discusses adaptation. The County also released a guidebook (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer to assist local, regional, and state governments in preparing for climate change.

To protect regional transportation infrastructure, the County has begun evaluating higher flows for bridges and culverts (structures commonly placed under roads to allow water to flow) and implementing educational efforts to facilitate sharing information among staff. The County is slated to train road services staff in climate change adaptation measures. [2] For more information about adaptation strategies for transportation systems, visit the Transportation Impacts & Adaptation page.

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The State of Oregon builds a Climate Change Adaptation Framework

In 2010, the State of Oregon released the Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer The Framework provides a method for local governments and agencies to assess projected impacts and evaluate various adaptation strategies. The Framework highlights important likely impacts and offers some guidance for identifying risks, short-term priority actions, and ways to implement decisions. It was developed along with the Oregon Climate Assessment Report (PDF), Exit EPA Disclaimer which identifies the likely impacts of climate change in Oregon. In addition, the Oregon Coastal Management Program released Climate Ready Communities (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer in 2009, which provides specific guidance for coastal communities.

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Portland considers facility expansion due to future water supply and demand scenarios

In Portland, Oregon, most precipitation falls during the winter months. The greatest challenge for the Portland Water Bureau is supplying water during the summer months, when demand is double average daily use. [3] Using climate model projections, the utility generated future scenarios of water supply and demand, with consistent results including increased winter precipitation, earlier snowmelt, and drier summers. [4] The projected supply and demand scenarios would result in a 2.8-5.4 billon gallon decrease in reservoir storage. [3] To make up this deficit the utility is considering expanding groundwater supply or surface water storage.

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[1] City of Olympia Public Works Department (1993). Preliminary Assessment of Sea Level Rise in Olympia, Washington: Technical and Policy Implications (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer City of Olympia Public Works Department.

[2] King County (2007). 2007 King County Climate Action Plan (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer King County.

[3] Miller, K., D. Yates (2006). Climate Change and Water Resources: a Primer for Municipal Water Providers (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer American Water Works Association, Denver, CO, USA.

[4] Palmer, R., M. Hahn (2002). The Impacts of Climate Change on Portlands Water Supply: An Investigation of Potential Hydrologic and Management Impacts on the Bull Run System (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer Portland Water Bureau.

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