King County Strategic Climate Action Plan - 2015 Update

In November 2015 King County, Washington adopted an update to their Strategic Climate Action Plan, which includes the county's plans for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change impacts.  Section 2 describes the county's adaptation plans for 12 focus areas: built environment (wastewater, roads and bridges, airport, county buildings and facilities) and planning and regional services (regional planning, public health, stormwater, floodplains, salmon recovery and rural programs, public transportation, environmental science and monitoring, and emergency management).

Highlights of key priority actions identified in the plan including the following:

  • Wastewater:  Use University of Washington research on the timing and change of precipitation patterns in King County to assess climate change impacts to wastewater conveyance and treatment systems and develop appropriate responses; expand reclaimed water program for agricultural irrigation and groundwater recharge and to improve summer stream flows and water temperatures.
  • Roads and Bridges: Incorporate information about future flood risks into road maintenance and preservation programs to the extent feasible under available funding.
  • Buildings and Facilities: Address long-term concerns about managing increased stormwater runoff from rain events in future updates to the Surface Water Design Manual used to design new and maintain, replace and upgrade existing stormwater infrastructure; and reassess how climate change will effect flood sizes and frequencies in the region.
  • Floodplains: Assess how changing local rainfall patterns will increase flood sizes and frequencies along county rivers and incorporate that information in the development of future flood hazard management plans and in the development of river corridor plans; conduct additional economic assessment and identify strategies for addressing coastal flood risk (including improving sea walls, elevating structures, acquiring flood-prone properties, offering incentive, and enhancing insurance purchase requirements); complete landslide hazard mapping along river corridors.
  • Emergency Management:  The county is completing the Resilience King County Initiative and Recovery Planning to establish a framework for short- and long-term recovery to assist individuals, businesses and governments recover from emergencies in a sustainable manner; the county will also implement priority actions identified in the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan that prioritized mitigation activities for the region based upon current and future conditions.  

 

The plan describes the disparate impacts that climate change will have on county residents.  Elderly residents and those with illnesses face increased risk of heat-related mortality.  Lower-cost housing is more at risk of damage from flooding. Lower-income residents also often lack adaptive capacity to heat and flooding. In developing the plan, county policymakers assessed the recommendations using a county-mandated equity impact review process to ensure equity in the planning process and in the outcomes of recommendations.

 

This equity review process asks decision-makers to consider three types of equity (p. 104):

  • Process Equity: Inclusive, open, and fair access by all stakeholders to decision processes that impact sustainable community outcomes.
  • Distributional Equity: Fair and just distribution of benefits and burdens to all residents across the community landscape, with little imbalance based on geography, gender, race/ethnicity, or income levels of households.
  • Cross-generational Equity: Effects of today’s actions on the fair distribution of benefits and burdens to future generations and communities.

In 2016, two local nonprofits published a compilation of findings and recommendations regarding climate resilience and equity in South Seattle/King County, based on participatory community research. See that report here.


The plan provides an overview of the impacts projected for King County as a result of climate change. The county is planning for:

  • an average annual increase of air temperatures of between 2 to 8.5 degrees F by 2050, with more frequent and intense summer heat waves and fewer winter cold spells, which will cause increases in heat-related mortality, more air pollution, higher summer energy use, warmer water temperatures, reduced snow pack, shifts in vegetation patterns, increased fire risk, and more invasive species;
  • a decrease in winter snow pack and more intense rains events, which will cause changes in the timing of river stream flow, more frequent river flooding, more urban flooding, and greater landslide risk; and
  • an increase in sea-levels in Puget Sound by between 6 and 50 inches by 2100 and higher ocean acidity, which will cause more coastal flooding, more landslides along coastal bluffs, and impacts to fisheries.

The plan responds to King County Council Ordinance 17270, which required the county executive to develop a strategic climate action plan by 2012 and update the plan in 2015.   

 

Publication Date: November 2015

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  • King County, Washington

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