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Summary of State Agency Action

Washington’s adaptation plan, Preparing for a Changing Climate: Washington State’s Integrated Climate Response Strategy (“Strategy”), includes 287 discrete goals for adapting and improving the resilience of agriculture; ecosystems, species, and habitats; oceans and coastlines; forests; infrastructure and the built environment; human health; and water resources to the impacts of climate change. The Strategy also identifies goals to advance research, monitoring, and public awareness of climate change. This page describes some of the progress Washington state agencies are making related to goals in each of these sectors.

Agriculture

In the agriculture sector, Washington’s goals focus on addressing invasive pests and diseases that are projected to increase with climate change; identifying and promoting climate- and drought-resilient crops; conserving productive and adaptive farmland and encouraging local land use regulations and incentives that preserve these lands; and reducing impacts of extreme weather (particularly heat and drought) on irrigated land and livestock.

Washington has taken steps to improve environmental stewardship and preservation on farmland, consistent with the goals in the Strategy. For example, in 2017, the Washington Department of Commerce issued regulations (WSR 17-20-100) relating to the state’s Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP), a voluntary program designed to incentivize protection of critical areas on agricultural lands. The regulations prevent local governments from broadly exempting agricultural activities from critical area regulations, and require local governments to review their development regulations (for areas not governed by the VSP, if they are participating) and make changes, if necessary, to protect critical areas where agricultural activities take place. Additionally, Washington's Recreation and Conservation Office provides Farmland Preservation Grants as part of its Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The grants are provided to purchase conservation easements and provide recipients money to help restore ecological functions that will enhance the viability of the preserved farmland.

The state is also taking steps to better understand and prepare for increasing drought risks to the agricultural industry. In 2017, the Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) published a report on the 2015 Drought and Agriculture, which quantifies the economic impacts of the state’s extreme drought in 2015 and makes recommendations, including the need for better data and information for growers around anticipated climate change effects in agricultural regions.

Biodiversity

Washington’s Strategy focuses on protecting and restoring habitats and habitat corridors that allow species to migrate as suitable habitat locations shift with temperature and climate changes. It also recommends protecting vulnerable, highly sensitive, and culturally important species like salmon, ensuring that management and conservation programs address the increased stresses these species will experience as a result of climate change.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has integrated climate change across many agency planning and decisionmaking processes, including in its 2015-2017 Strategic Plan. In March 2017, WDFW adopted Policy 5408, “Addressing the Risks of Climate Change,” stating that it will assess how habitat values will be affected by climate change over time and identify landscape or site-level characteristics that support long-term ecosystem resilience, and factor this information into agency decisionmaking, including decisions regarding new land acquisitions or conservation easements. The Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group (WWHCWG), a science-based partnership led jointly by WDFW and Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), has completed studies on the use of climate change projections to identify climate-resilient habitat corridors, and inform connectivity conservation planning. WWHCWG has also engaged with partners in British Columbia to conduct finer-scale analyses of transboundary species movements and potential climate change effects on habitat connectivity.

WDFW has also integrated climate change into the State Wildlife Action Plan, and discusses climate impacts in individual species management plans. In particular, WDFW has made efforts to assess risks to salmon and other climate-sensitive species and determine adaptation actions to help mitigate risks. For example, WDFW hosted a Salmon, Climate Change, and WDFW workshop in 2013 to explore vulnerability and resilience of salmon and discuss opportunities for considering climate change in management decisions. WDFW also partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to identify ways for the state to work with NGOs to advance adaptation in fish and wildlife management, and produced a summary report in 2013, Safeguarding Washington's Fish and Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change.

 

Coasts & Oceans

In the coastal sector, Washington’s Strategy recommends protecting people, property, and infrastructure from coastal hazards by avoiding new development in vulnerable areas; incorporating risk into land use and shoreline management planning; and using regulatory tools, incentives, and other means to help reduce coastal risks to communities. The Strategy also emphasizes the need to integrate actions that protect coastal habitat and ecosystems and allow for adaptation as sea levels rise, such as by modifying regulatory tools to reduce hard armoring and allow for upland habitat creation. It also aims to address impacts of ocean acidification and slow this process through pollution reduction, in order to help protect shellfish.

State agencies are taking steps to improve coastal planning and provide resources for coastal communities to address issues relating to sea-level rise and coastal hazards. For example, in 2017, the interagency State Ocean Caucus finalized Washington’s Marine Spatial Plan (MSP), a plan for coordinating decisions around marine resource management planning and ocean uses. Pursuant to the legislation requiring the plan, the MSP addresses potential impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on marine water uses, and shoreline and coastal impacts. Additionally, the Washington Department of Ecology has amended regulations and guidance for local shoreline management relating to sea-level rise (discussed further in the Support for Local Action section).

Over recent years, Washington has also sought to address in depth one of the critical climate-related challenges to the state’s environment, resources, and economy: ocean acidification (OA). In 2012, then-Governor Christine Gregoire convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, which, along with partners, produced the report Ocean Acidification: From Knowledge to Action in November 2012. In 2013, in response to one of the recommendations from the report, the state legislature established a Washington Ocean Acidification Center at the University of Washington to advance science and solutions around ocean acidification. Also in 2013, the legislature enacted Engrossed Senate Bill 5603 Section 4, creating the Washington Marine Resources Advisory Council within the Office of the Governor. The Council is directed to advise and work with the Washington Ocean Acidification Center on the effects and sources of ocean acidification, to deliver recommendations to the Governor and Legislature, to seek funding to support the recommendations, and to assist educational activities regarding ocean acidification. The Council led the review and update of the 2012 OA report, publishing an addendum in December 2017.

Forestry

Washington aims to preserve healthy forests through conservation initiatives and incentives that preserve the most adaptive forestlands across ownership boundaries, by reducing wildland fire risk through adaptive management and improved resilience to pests and diseases, and by ensuring that species being targeted for preservation are adaptive to future climate conditions.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducted an assessment of climate change-related risks to the department’s mission, responsibilities, and operations across most major DNR programs. The assessment found high risks affecting forest resources (and impacts on timber production), forest roads (including stream crossings on non-fish-bearing streams, which have not been upgraded for increased flows), forest health, and wildfire. In early 2018, DNR’s Public Lands Commissioner wrote to state legislators advocating for the adoption of climate change and carbon policy that is informed by a set of four Resilience Principles, including protecting the resilience of lands, waters, and communities, accelerating carbon sequestration, and advancing solutions with multiple benefits. These actions align with the goal in DNR’s 2014-2017 Strategic Plan to “mitigate and adapt to a changing environment and climate.”

Infrastructure

In the infrastructure sector, Washington’s Strategy recommends considering climate change impacts in siting and design of new development and infrastructure, and planning for relocation if appropriate after damage from flooding or other disasters. It also recommends incorporating climate impacts and response strategies in long-range and modal statewide transportation planning; enhancing preparedness in transportation, energy, and emergency services sectors; and working with the insurance industry on mechanisms to reduce property risks and communicate risk to consumers; among other goals.

Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has led efforts to assess climate-related vulnerabilities in the state’s transportation infrastructure, and to require consideration of climate change impacts in environmental review of transportation projects – work that was underway even prior to the development of the 2012 Strategy. WSDOT has undertaken two climate change vulnerability studies funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the results of which can help inform statewide and regional infrastructure planning. The first study, completed in 2011, involved a statewide vulnerability assessment of the state’s transportation network. Using the findings from that study, WSDOT completed its second study in 2016, a more detailed assessment of adaptation options in the flood-prone Skagit River Basin. These studies, as well as research from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group (CIG), have informed guidance documents developed and updated over the years. WSDOT’s Guidance for Project-Level Climate Change Evaluations (first produced in 2009, and updated most recently in 2017) provides step-by-step instructions to assess a transportation project’s vulnerability to climate changes forecasted for the Pacific Northwest. All WSDOT projects subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) are required to follow the guidance, and it is also recommended for federally funded local-agency projects. Also in 2017, WSDOT developed Guidance for Considering Impacts of Climate Change in WSDOT Plans, which is intended to help all WSDOT planners to integrate climate change into their planning processes.

Washington’s Insurance Commissioner has been a participant in nationwide efforts to engage with insurers regarding climate change risk. This includes joining with other states to require insurers of a certain size to answer a climate risk preparedness survey. One of the objectives identified in the Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s 2017-2023 Strategic Plan is to increase awareness of impacts of climate change on the insurance industry and consumers.

Public Health & 

Emergency Preparedness

Public health goals in Washington’s Strategy focus on enhancing emergency response capacity so that the state can better detect, prepare for, and respond to public health threats affected by climate change, which range from infectious diseases, to cardiovascular and respiratory impacts, to heat-related impacts, to shellfish toxins and more.

The Washington Department of Health (WDOH) established a Climate Change Workgroup for the purpose of identifying threats and establishing partnerships across the state to help monitor impacts and make recommendations about how to plan and respond to climate change threats to health. WDOH’s 2014-2016 Strategic Plan notes climate change as an added stress affecting the public health system. The Strategy also recommends that WDOH enhance tracking of air quality and disease to detect and address public health threats posed by climate change. The Washington Tracking Network, an online source of environmental public health data, currently includes a section on “Climate and Health,” which provides data and measures on topics including urban heat, flood risk, extreme weather, wildfires, drought, and more. For example, for urban heat, users can map the percentage of paved surface area by census tract across the state.

With a large shellfish industry in the state, WDOH also closely monitors shellfish growing areas for biotoxins. WDOH's Biotoxin Program monitors for three marine biotoxins, and uses both current weather condition data and long-term climate models to help predict the severity and movement of harmful algae blooms (HABs), which can heighten biotoxin levels. The program is developing a HAB Risk Index that will aim to make ties between environmental factors (e.g., surface currents, atmospheric pressure, winds, river flow, etc.) and HAB events and biotoxin closures. This effort will help WDOH better model and predict HABs in the future.

 

Water

In the water sector, Washington’s goals focus on improving water management to address climate change effects on supply by: promoting integrated water management in vulnerable basins in consideration of all current and future needs and projected supply, enhancing water conservation and efficiency programs, and y ensuring that water managers incorporate future climate change projections into decisionmaking.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) works to understand how climate change will affect the state’s water resources due to changes in snowmelt, groundwater recharge, sea-levels, water temperatures, and drought. In March 2016 Ecology developed a report exploring Predicted Impacts of Climate Change on Groundwater Resources of Washington State. The report analyzes potential climate change impacts on: groundwater storage and recharge, interactions with surface water, groundwater quality and temperature; and sea-level rise impacts on groundwater. The report makes recommendations for addressing data needs and uncertainty, and for managing groundwater for a range of potential hydrologic responses to climate change. In 2015, Ecology finalized a Wetland Program Plan, which provides the state’s approach to protecting wetlands and ensuring no-net-loss (and overall net gain) of wetland resources. The plan factors climate change into monitoring and assessment objectives, as it recognizes a need to understand the impacts of climate change on different types of wetlands in order to effectively prioritize conservation efforts. Ecology also recently produced a report on Adaptation Strategies for Resilient Cleanup Remedies, which provides a framework for ensuring resilience of toxic cleanup sites under future climate change conditions in order to minimize health and environmental impacts (e.g., to water quality). Finally, the state is accounting for climate change in integrated water management planning for vulnerable basins, like through the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, completed in 2012. The state legislature authorized funding to implement initial development phases of the Yakima Basin plan in 2013.

(Research last updated: July 23, 2018).

 
 
 
 

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