The picturesque city of Olympia, Washington is located on Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. So the low-lying downtown area often floods during high tides and heavy rains.

Haub: “Our tides have a really wide fluctuation, fifteen feet over a six hour time period is not uncommon. It’s not a threat now, but with sea rise, it becomes a significant threat.”

That’s Andy Haub, Olympia’s Water Resources Director. He knows that preparing for climate change requires a sophisticated and detailed plan. So Olympia is using computer mapping, weather monitoring and other technology to assess the situation.

Results so far suggest that wall or barrier systems will be needed to shield the city from the rising sea. Olympia will also need to rethink its current drainage system, which could overflow and allow seawater to run into the city during high tides and storms.

Haub: “Every year we create a work plan of small, tangible items that we can do that will increase our understanding, knowing that at some point we’ll need to make some big decisions, and we’ll be better prepared to do that.”

For this coastal community, the consequences of climate change are not distant – they’re lapping at the shores right now.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Evan Lowenstein.
Photo: Olympia, with the Capitol Lake, Percival Landing, and Olympic Mountains in the distance (source: Wikipedia).

More Resources
Sea Level Rise: A Challenge for Washington’s Coastal Communities
Planning for Sea Level Rise in Olympia, Washington
City of Olympia: Sea Level Rise
Students Calculate Future Sea-Level Rise in Olympia

Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and...