How Will Tacoma Cope With Climate Change?

The City of Tacoma is working on plans for how it will cope with climate change. The City is in the process of assessing potential impacts of climate change on both Tacoma's natural and built environment, and its citizens, and outlining actions that can be taken to mitigate those impacts.

--- Climate Change Resilience Study ---

This study assesses the possible impacts climate change could have on various systems in Tacoma - and begins to assess what actions might be both the most important, and the most feasible for the city and its residents.

Tacoma is increasingly seeing more and worse storms than it is historically used to - storms that in many cases exceed current design standards for construction of infrastructure. In 2015 Tacoma not only had the hottest year on record, but also tied with the previous year for the most storms exceding what the city's systems are designed for. We've also seen an increase in the number and severity of landslides and flooding incidents. As was pointed out during a recent presentation to the City Council, this is not something to worry about in 2050 - this is happening now. 

The Climate Change Resilience Study looks at these trends, and at forecasts for rising sea levels, and identifies areas in Tacoma most at risk of feeling their impacts. The study assesses where the exposure to these risks is the highest, and which areas are the most sensitive to the impacts. The capacity of each area to adapt to these impacts is assessed, and the relative vulnerability ranked, with an eye to human factors, as well as environmental ones. Responses to identified risks are proposed in two categories: mitigation efforts, which can be made to minimize Tacoma's contributions to climate change; and adaptation actions, which can be taken to adapt to the changes that we are already seeing, and to those forecast for the future. The study goes on to outline recommendations and priorities for adaptation actions and additional studies.

Risks are assessed in three categories: the built environment, natural systems, and social systems.

Built Environment - In considering manmade elements, the study focuses on Tacoma's wastewater, stormwater, and transportation systems, and the landfill. 

For these systems sea level rise is a major consideration, particularly around infrastructure and equipment that may have difficulty dealing with increased volume of water, including saltwater potentially entering systems not intended to deal with saltwater.

Under the category of "highly vulnerable," the study lists stormwater conveyances already under capacity for high flow levels, the Central Treatment Plant and various pump stations, Ruston Way and Marine View Drive, and levees along the Puyallup River.

High tides are already increasing every year, with most of the Port expected to be vulnerable by the year 2100 (map shows dark blue areas already experiencing increased flooding, and light blue areas forecast to be threatened in the future).

Natural Systems - In the category of natural systems, the study considers impacts on marine ecosystems, tidal and freshwater wetlands, lakes, open spaces, critical aquifer recharge areas, the Puyallup River, streams, and restoration sites.

Higher vulnerability areas identified include marine shoreline ecosystems - especially tidal wetlands, the Puyallup River, small streems, lakes, and steep slopes.

Social Systems - Aside from mapping potential threats to physical elements of the natural and manmade world in Tacoma, the study also overlays those maps with demographic information. This highlights parts of Tacoma with dual risk of climate change impacts, potentially worsened for sensitive populations who might not have the adaptive capacity of other areas of town, including high numbers of the elderly, low-income residents, and non-English speakers, among others.

Lower income, or elderly residents, for example, might not have the resources to deal with risk of flooding or landslides. Even something as seemingly simple as an unusually warm or extended heat wave might threaten the elderly and others, if they can't afford air conditioners or other ways of mitigating the affects of excessive heat.

Recommended Actions: The study begins to outline recommended next steps: areas for action that can be addressed in the immediate short-term - particularly actions with multiple benefits, and studies needed to provide additional information.

Near term adaptations and studies: 

  • Ensure that near-term capital improvement projects take into account climate change risks.
  • Increase preparedness for greater climate variability and more frequent and/or more severe extreme events, including heat waves and floods.
  • Prioritize the most vulnerable neighborhoods to build climate resilience: South Tacoma, Hilltop and New Tacoma near Downtown, the Southwest Area of West End, and the Eastside.
  • Study key risks: sea level rise, Puyallup River flooding. (This would consist of detailed marine inundation area mapping, including an update/review of topographic data for specific infrastructure assets and examination of flow connectivity).
  • Conduct additional studies to reduce uncertainty around the vulnerability of specific natural systems in the city, including thorough detailed spatial mapping.

Actions with multiple benefits - 

  • Preserve and expand urban forest canopies to reduce stormwater runoff, reduce urban heat, and provide valuable habitat
  • Encourage low impact development practices
  • Reduce non-climate stressors (e.g., vegetation clearing, stormwater runoff, and impaired water quality)

The study, now in its final stages, is meant as the beginning of a process to better understand risks related to climate change, to identify ways of proactively managing them, and provide a timeline for needed actions and investments. We should be seeing a final draft sometime this spring.


--- Environmental Action Plan ---

Tacoma is also in the process of developing an Environmental Action Plan "outlining strategies for reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and making other improvements to the local environment." The EAP, funded last year to bring together disparate policies, goals, and efforts from the far corners of Tacoma's many plans, updates the 2008 Climate Action Plan. 

The City of Tacoma's Environmental Action Plan (EAP) will identify priority actions to address environmental challenges. The EAP will incorporate goals from current and past strategic plans and initiatives, creating a comprehensive plan to guide actions and measure progress each year.

The intention is to take all the goals and strategies from the various plans, and begin to move coherently toward measurable accomplishments. To this end, within each of six categories, the plan identifies things the City can do - both in terms of services and policies, and in leading by example. The plan identifies a list of more than 60 potential early actions that the City could begin to tackle between now and 2018. The actions are categorized by system affected, rated for benefits produced, and scored for citizen interest, based on public input gathered late last year.

Natural Systems

  • Fund implementation of surface water management plans using best management practices for each of the city’s watersheds.
  • Develop Urban Forestry Implementation Strategy.
  • Plan, create incentives for, and support green stormwater retrofit projects such as rain gardens and other installations.
  • Develop and manage an open space program based on watershed planning.
  • Improve regulations to encourage tree preservation and protection on private property and in the rights-of-way.
  • Create a public education campaign, targeted outreach effort or incentives about the benefits of native and pollinator-friendly species and the hazards of invasive species.
  • Develop policy for street vacations that protects habitat and access to land appropriate for urban agriculture.
  • Adopt and implement Landscaping Manual and Integrated Pest Management Policy and Plan for all city facilities and train staff.
  • Retrofit one city facility with Green Stormwater Infrastructure.


  • Develop education programs and materials on electric vehicles.
  • Establish dedicated and stable funding for active transportation education and programs.
  • Synchronize and recalibrate traffic signal timing on arterials.
  • Become a Bicycle Friendly Silver Community by implementing Mobility Master Plan roadway projects and trail projects.
  • Support 4 multi-year Safe Routes to School Programs.
  • Develop sidewalk, curb ramp and crosswalk inventories.
  • Advocate for incentives for fuel-efficient/alternative-fuel vehicles.
  • Equip all vehicles with fuel-saving/anti-idling technology
  • Convert solid waste trucks to renewable natural gas.
  • Hire Employee Transportation Coordinator.
  • Update city’s telecommuting technology and flexible work schedule.
  • Join West Coast Electric Fleets at the Express Lane Levels.
  • Incorporate contractor fuel emissions reduction standards bids.

Air and Food

  • Continue to collaboratively seek federal and state funding for reducing woodsmoke pollution.
  • Sustain and grow community garden program through enhanced garden support and education.
  • Create and fund a reporting system and feedback forum for the city to hear from those suffering from food insecurity.
  • Support gleaning in Tacoma through funding and outreach.
  • Support urban agriculture and clear legal hurdles so citizens can sell produce grown in the city.
  • Support innovative projects to encourage more disadvantaged citizens to shop at farmer’s markets.
  • Pilot 1 to 2 small-scale urban agriculture programs on public land.
  • Implement community supported agriculture (CSA) pick-up at 4 city facilities for employees.


  • Develop Construction and Demolition Diversion program.
  • Support and advocate for strong product stewardship policies at the state and national level.
  • Provide financial incentives to increase diversion of materials at the Tacoma Recovery and Transfer Center.
  • Conduct and support education and outreach on waste prevention and toxic reduction.
  • Incentivize the use of sink food grinders.
  • Provide recycling and composting education and outreach targeted at multifamily property managers and tenants.
  • Require new buildings to provide adequate space and receptacles for recycling and organics storage and collection.
  • Enhance opportunities to sort and drop-off reusable and recyclable materials at the Tacoma Recovery and Transfer Center.
  • Reduce disposable bag use by shoppers.
  • Ensure compliance with existing Sustainable Purchasing Policy.
  • Conduct waste characterization audits at 4 city facilities.
  • Increase materials surplus recovery and sale for city-owned goods and building demolitions.
  • Use low-carbon concrete or asphalt in city projects, including streets.

Buildings and Energy

  • Meet or exceed I-1937 energy conservation targets.
  • Develop a pilot commercial Resource Conservation Manager program.
  • Continue to develop water conservation incentives, rebates and education.
  • Hire a green building advocate for the city’s Permit Office.
  • Retain a high level of funding for low income energy efficiency programs.
  • Support efforts at the state and local level to incentivize conservation in rental properties.
  • Work with Regional Code Collaborative to increase energy efficiency standards in the State Energy Code and Building Code.
  • Develop community owned solar projects.
  • Require annual public reporting of energy use for all medium to large commercial properties, including multi-family buildings.
  • Upgrade all streetlights to LED where cost effective and use Dark Skies best practices when possible.
  • Track and report city buildings’ utility performance and Energy Star scores. Develop a Resource Conservationn Management Plan and Policy.
  • Meet federal Better Building Challenge goals.
  • Certify all existing LEED New Construction buildings as LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance.

Climate Resilience

  • Incorporate climate resilience actions into equity initiatives and programs, and consider future climate risk in emergency planning and hazard mitigation plan updates.
  • Preserve and expand urban forest canopies with climate resilient species.
  • Begin a conversation with the business community around climate impacts and resilience.
  • Engage with and support community organizations that enhance community resilience.
  • Ensure that near-term capital improvement projects consider climate change risks.
  • Conduct additional studies to identify infrastructure that will be impacted by sea level rise and flooding.
  • Inspect, maintain, and upgrade critical infrastructure.
  • Preserve remaining natural areas and provide more guidance and specifications on incorporating climate science in habitat restoration plans.
  • Evaluate the development code related to landslide and flooding hazards.
  • Encourage the leads of existing Puyallup River flood planning work to integrate climate change considerations.

Some of these actions can be pursued now, while others need funding before they can be implemented. Within each of these six categories, the plan will also identify indicator measures to be tracked as the City works toward quantifiable goals for 2020. A final draft hasn't been made public yet, but it sounds like we'll see one before too long.

What do you think?

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Michael Lafreniere

Yet Tacoma’s elected officials seem intent on accelerating climate change by having us become the petrochemical center of the Northwest through the support of fracking, the natural gas industry and methanol production thereby increasing CO2 and making things WORSE, according to a recent Harvard study:

March 24, 2016 at 9:04 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

Don’t miss the new youtube video starring our wonderful Mayor Strickland as well as the Port Commissioner Connie Bacon gushing about the new methanol plant. Pretty nice endorsement!

March 27, 2016 at 5:32 am / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 0


Look our Mayor is going to China and Vietnam on an airline trip there.
that’s at least more than a years worth of CO2 emissions from an average gasoline fueled motor vehicle or more just for that one trip.

If she like Chinese investors,industry and especially their government so much I wish that she would just make it a one way trip,resign as our mayor and just stay there as a new Chinese citizen.

March 28, 2016 at 6:50 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 2


The news article says that her last trip netted $275m in investment for Tacoma.  If she and her partners can pull this off again, this time in a better economy, the $20k will have been well spent.

Go get em’ Madam Mayor!!

March 29, 2016 at 7:08 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 1


$275m really?  Let’s see documentation on that.

March 29, 2016 at 11:55 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 2

C.S. Lewis

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good
of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live
under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may
at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good
will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
of their own conscience.”

March 30, 2016 at 9:13 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

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