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Two HUGE victories for climate change planning and sea level rise mitigation in Washington

We are incredibly excited to announce two major coastal victories that will go hand in hand in addressing the effects of climate change on coastal communities in Washington State. After several years of work from Surfrider staff, community partners, Tribes, and other coastal stakeholders, HB 1181 (Rep. Duerr), which will improve the state’s response and resilience to climate change, passed! The Legislature also fully funded the Dept. of Ecology’s Coastal Climate Hazards Planning Package, and both HB 1181 and the funding package were recently signed into law by Governor Inslee. This marks a culmination of efforts by coastal advocates that will have lasting impacts on our ability to prepare for climate change in Washington State. 

PASSED: HB 1181, Improving the state's response to climate change by updating the state's planning framework. 

This bill will help build climate-resilient communities in every city and county across Washington by amending Washington’s Grown Management Act to include sea level rise and climate change planning. It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation while bolstering communities and natural resources against the accelerating impacts of a changing climate. It also adds a definition of environmental justice into the Growth Management Act, stipulating that our land use planning should work to achieve environmental justice and not worsen existing environmental health disparities. As the state’s population grows and its cities and communities expand, it is critical we incorporate the best available science in planning a more resilient future in the face of climate change.

For the last 32 years, Washington has operated under the guidance of the Growth Management Act (GMA). This Act was intended to preserve valuable rural lands and open space by directing development into urban areas. Its requirements include planning for land use, housing, transportation, and more. With the emergence of the climate change and housing crises, this bill’s modifications to the GMA will strengthen the state’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance climate resilience and mitigation, and provide adequate housing for the entire population.

In tandem with 1181, Governor Jay Inslee signed the State Budget that fully funds a $3.9 million Coastal Hazards Planning Package for the Dept. of Ecology.

Washington faces severe and costly damage to life and property from climate change. For coastal populations, there is an increased risk from worsening coastal hazards, such as flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. At Governor Inslee’s request, the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council (WCMAC) developed a set of coastal resilience recommendations in 2021 to help state agencies and coastal communities address the challenging issues of the present and shape a prosperous future. This budget package will provide the staff capacity needed for the  Dept. of Ecology to implement three priority recommendations: (1) expand data analysis to assess site scale vulnerabilities within coastal communities, (2) deliver coordinated state level technical assistance, and (3) increase local capacity to design and implement effective on the ground projects.

We are already facing impacts from sea level rise and climate change. Washington State is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise - over 68% of Washingtonians (4.6 million people) live along or near the state’s 3,026 miles of coastline. This is why we at Surfrider continue to prioritize actions that address these threats. We can’t afford not to. Research shows that for every dollar invested in resilience planning saves us between $4-$11 in costs down the road. 

In Washington, we used our seat as the ocean recreation rep on WCMAC to lead efforts in building consensus and prioritization of planning for sea level rise and increasing storm severity, including updates to the Shoreline Management Act and supporting coastal hazards funding. The funding that was secured this session is critical to help communities develop sea level rise plans and coast-specific rules. Changing sea levels can erode land away or add land through accretion. This will change the face of our coastlines and how we manage development or mitigation strategies.

This funding will steer resources to projects that prioritize areas already being impacted by climate. While this work is first focused on the outer coast, it will expand to include the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. It will allow for a statewide Comprehensive sea level rise study that will provide more accurate information and predictions. It will also facilitate a partnership with Washington Sea Grant through the Resilience Action Demonstration Project (RAD) to identify and support the most vulnerable areas on our coast by creating a COASTAL hazards project viewer. This work will result in a list of priority projects that communities have identified and help funnel resources towards those projects. . 

In passing HB 1181 and fully funding the Coastal Hazards budget package, Washington is taking bold action to address climate change and invest in coastal resilience.  As a state with thousands of miles of diverse and unique coastline, we are at the forefront of feeling the impacts of climate change. With these two victories, we will continue to be at the forefront of adapting to these changes.