Sea Level Rise


The City of Olympia (City), LOTT Clean Water Alliance (LOTT) and the Port of Olympia (Port) hosted both a public Open House and Community Workshop and a Joint-Elected Officials Workshop in January. View the workshop materials below.


January 18 Workshop

Approximately 130 community members attended the January 18, 2018 Open House and Community Workshop. Officials from the City and the consulting firm AECOM Technical Services, Inc. (AECOM) presented information about the sea level rise planning process and recently completed vulnerability and risk assessment work. Attendees provided input during a public comment and question period and through participation in four workshop activities.

January 18 Workshop Materials:

January 31 Joint-Elected Officials Workshop

As a companion to the community workshop, a joint meeting of the City of Olympia Council, LOTT Clean Water Alliance Board of Directors and the Port of Olympia Commission was held on January 31, 2018. This was an opportunity for discussion among elected officials and leaderships staff. Read the workshop summary.

Downtown Sea Level Rise map

Sea Level Rise Response Planning 

The City of Olympia (City) is working with LOTT Clean Water Alliance (LOTT), the Port of Olympia (Port) and the consulting firm AECOM Technical Services Inc. (AECOM) to develop a comprehensive Sea level Rise Response Plan for the Project Area depicted on the Sea Level Rise Project Area Map and referred to as Downtown Olympia or, most commonly, as Downtown.  

The Sea Level Rise Plan will address the challenges facing our community and how to protect and preserve downtown amenities, assets, and quality of life for Olympia’s residents and businesses.

The Plan will analyze options for protecting Downtown.  It will include recommendations, implementation schedules, decision-making thresholds and the funding needs.

This planning effort is a priority action from the City’s Downtown Strategy process and builds on steps that have already been taken to prepare for sea level rise. 
There is strong community support for protecting Downtown, investing in Downtown and ensuring that it is safe and welcoming.  These community values were established through multiple public processes and serve as the basis for the City’s Comprehensive Plan. 

Interactive Story Map 

View our Sea Level Rise Story Map for an interactive picture of projected rising sea levels in Olympia. 

New Project Information Available

Since the City, LOTT and the Port hosted a Community Kick-off Meeting on June 27, 2017, the following work products have been completed.

The Planning Framework was prepared by the City, LOTT and Port Project Team, with assistance from AECOM.  It serves as the overall framework for developing the Sea Level Rise Response Plan.  The Planning Framework outlines the planning process and defines the vision, purpose, and guiding principles for the Sea Level Rise Response Plan.  The Planning Framework includes the following sections:

  • Project Overview
  • Plan Assumptions
  • Proposed Approach to Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning
  • Regulatory Framework and Considerations
  • Community Engagement

The Planning Framework describes how the sea level rise planning process will occur and under what guiding principles and assumptions.  At the completion of the planning process, the document will be reworked to serve as the introduction to the Sea Level Rise Response Plan and the record of the planning process.

During the June 27, 2017 Community Meeting, attendees were asked to provide input on “project success” and “project outcomes”.  This input, along with sea level rise policy direction from the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Downtown Strategy, was considered during the drafting of the Planning Framework.

Comments on the Planning Framework can be sent to

The Science Review presents a review of climate science data and sea level rise for Olympia.  It establishes the scientific basis for evaluating sea level rise impacts.  This review of the science is the first step in the sea level rise planning process and provides a basis for conducting the vulnerability and risk assessment and subsequent adaptation strategies.  The Science Review discusses the most critical climate stressors for Olympia: sea level rise, coastal flooding, and precipitation.  If no adaptation strategies are implemented, these climate stressors are expected to significantly impact Olympia’s Downtown, Port, and LOTT facilities.

The Science Review identifies the National Research Council (NRC) report Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon and Washington: Past, Present and Future (2012) as the current best available sea level rise science for the region.  A key finding of the Science Review is the identified need to apply local geological adjustments to the NRC sea level rise projections.  Estimating subsidence in combination with sea level rise will make the projections locally relevant for Olympia. Observations of vertical land motion in Olympia indicate that Olympia may be experiencing subsidence, or sinking, at rates as high as 3 millimeters per year (mm/yr).  This subsidence results from regional tectonics and artificial fill compacting.  Subsidence may increase the effects of sea level rise in Olympia.  Subsidence could contribute an additional 5 inches of sea level rise by 2030, 8 inches by 2050 and 12 inches by 2100.

Planning Process Information

There are many Sea Level Rise and flooding related challenges facing the downtown Olympia area. Portions of the downtown are built on fill, shoreline areas are mapped within FEMA’s 100-year coastal floodplain, and high tides can back up into the stormwater system and cause surface street flooding. Downtown flooding issues – both from high tides and intense precipitation – will worsen in the future as a result of Sea Level Rise. The City is working with LOTT and the Port to develop a comprehensive Sea Level Rise Response Plan to address these challenges and protect and preserve downtown amenities, assets, and quality of life for Olympia’s residents and businesses. The Sea Level Rise Response Plan will analyze options for protecting the downtown area and develop recommendations, implementation schedules, decision-making thresholds, funding needs, and emergency response approaches to address Sea Level Rise vulnerabilities and risks in the future.

The City has hired a consultant, AECOM Technical Services, to assist with the development of the Sea Level Rise Response Plan. AECOM has collaborated with the Project Partners (City, LOTT, and the Port) to develop a project approach and schedule to carry out the work necessary to develop the plan. The Project Partners will follow an innovative approach and the project tasks will include: data review of prior studies; summary of best available Sea Level Rise science; defining a Sea Level Rise planning framework; refining prior vulnerability and risk assessments of the downtown area, including LOTT and Port facilities; identifying options for addressing Sea Level Rise; developing a response plan that includes actionable next steps, priorities, and phasing; and providing opportunities for community input. The project partners have allocated $250,000 to support this effort which begins in May and continues through 2018.

Project information for the Sea Level Rise Response Plan: 

Development of the Sea Level Rise Response Plan will include three community meetings designed to obtain feedback and input at specific points during the planning process.
• Workshop 1: Vulnerability and Risk Assessment - January 18, 2018. View the flyer for more information.
• Workshop 2: Draft Adaptation Strategies
• Workshop 3: Draft Sea Level Rise Response Plan

Project material, when it becomes available, will be shared through this Sea Level Rise website and interested parties can sign-up for the Sea Level Rise Information & Updates E-Newsletter.

In addition to the project’s scheduled community workshops, the Project Partners intend to pursue additional community engagement opportunities.  If your organization or agency is interested in requesting a Sea Level Rise presentation, please send a request to:

Recent presentations summarizing the need to begin planning for Sea Level Rise and the planning process include:
• February 8, 2017 Responding to Sea Level Rise Community Meeting
• April 11, 2017 Planning for Sea Level Rise City Council Meeting (Interlocal Agreement)
• May 2017 Response Planning for Sea Level Rise (Scope of Work Presentation)

The City of Olympia Comprehensive Plan reflects the community’s vision for the next twenty years, and includes the policies that will make the vision a reality.  The Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 2014, includes the following vision for downtown:

Downtown Olympia Will Be...

  • A vibrant, attractive regional destination
  • Full of distinctive pedestrian-oriented places and spaces
  • A mixture of urban housing options
  • A home for a variety of businesses
  • A place to connect with our cultural and historic fabric, and
  • Protected from the effects of sea level rise.


The Comprehensive Plan includes the following Sea Level Rise goals and policies:

  • The City uses best available information to implement a sea level rise management plan that will protect Olympia’s downtown. (Goal U 11)
  • Evaluate different scenarios for sea level rise, including varying magnitudes and time horizons, and develop a progression of adaptation and response actions for each scenario. (PU 11.1)
  • Develop plans, cost estimates and financing options for addressing sea level rise that include regulatory, engineering and environmentally sensitive solutions. (PU 11.2)
  • Maintain public control of downtown shorelines that may eventually be needed to help manage flood water. (PU 11.3)
  • Incorporate sea level rise planning into the design of public and private infrastructure where needed. (PU 11.4)
  • Use the best available science and the experiences of other communities in formulating plans for sea level rise. (PU 11.5)
  • Partner with government entities and other key stakeholders, such as, the federal government, State of Washington, LOTT Clean Water Alliance, Port of Olympia, Squaxin Island Tribe, downtown property owners, businesses and residents, environmental groups, and other interested parties. (PU 11.6)
  • Engage the community in a discussion of various sea level rise scenarios, how the City will respond to lessen the impact, and what the costs would be. (PU 11.7)
  • Require development to incorporate measures, such as higher finished floor elevations, that will reduce risks and avoid future costs associated with rising sea levels; and to encourage acknowledgment of such risks by state and federal agencies. (PU 11.8)

Following an extensive public process with approximately 3,500 people participating, the City Council adopted the Olympia Downtown Strategy in April 2017.  The Downtown Strategy builds on over $180 million dollars of public sector investment since the mid-1990’s along with current demographic and market shifts that favor urban redevelopment. Centered on broad community vision and goals, the Downtown Strategy integrates a variety of actions focused on established priorities:

  • Setting the stage for housing options for people with a full range of incomes.
  • Creating a more vibrant, dynamic business environment that attracts people, activity and investment.
  • Encouraging private sector investment.
  • Retaining unique qualities such as our historic fabric and natural waterfront environment.
  • Improving the multi-modal transportation system with a special focus on making the pedestrian experience extraordinary.

The Downtown Strategy includes the following action:

  •  Form a Sea Level Response Plan that identifies needs for protecting Downtown, risks, uncertainties, private and public costs, funding, and a response that can be implemented incrementally and modified as new information emerges. 

Abandoning Downtown is not consistent with existing goals, policies and growth plans adopted for Downtown or with public values embodied in the Olympia Comprehensive Plan, Downtown Strategy and Shoreline Master Program.  However, through the sea level rise planning process, the potential implications of a large-scale retreat from Downtown will be better understood.  

View our interactive Sea Level Rise Story Map for a clear picture of projected rising sea levels in Olympia and the effects on downtown buildings and infrastructure.
Olympia has been concerned with climate change and Sea Level Rise since 1990.  Since then a series of assessment reports have been prepared.  Previous assessments and reports include:

Adaptation strategies imageWhat Else is Happening with the Planning Process?

Now that Steps 1 through 4 in the sea level rise planning process are completed, the focus of the planning effort turns to development of draft adaptations strategies. The draft adaptation strategies will be presented at a community workshop and feedback solicited during spring 2018. View the example sea level rise adaptation strategies.

June 27th Community Meeting Information

The City, LOTT and the Port hosted a Community Meeting on June 27, 2017 to present the Sea Level Rise Response planning process.  The meeting began at 6:30 with staff available to answer questions about the current understanding of sea level rise and past work efforts.  A presentation followed at 7:00 pm focused on the current Sea Level Response planning process, including project approach, schedule, community engagement opportunities and expected outcomes.

The following Story Boards were available for review at the Community Meeting:
•  Sea Level Rise Basic Science
•  Nuisance Flooding
•  Sea Level Rise Response Planning Process
•  Sea Level Rise Response Planning Summary
•  Why are the City, LOTT and the Port Developing a Sea Level Response Plan?
•  LOTT Clean Water Alliance - Budd Inlet Treatment Plant

Attendees were asked to provide input on “project success” and “project outcomes”. Verbatim written responses received, in no particular order, are available here.


Contact Susan Clark, Senior Planner, at 360.753.8321 or email:

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 Sea Level Rise coordination