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Environment | Water

What Climate Change Means For Seattle And The Northwest

SEATTLE — City officials predict that by 2050 parts of Seattle will be under water at high tide as global sea levels rise.

At a press conference held Monday on the edge of Elliott Bay near downtown Seattle the city council announced a new plan to take action on climate change.

Councilor Mike O’Brien stood before the wintery gray waters of Puget Sound and pointed to a large map of the Seattle shoreline.

Click on image to see full map.

O’Brien said the effects of climate change will hit Seattle right where it hurts: the industrial shipping zone at Harbor Island - a hotspot of West Coast maritime trade.

The report projects that over half of Harbor Island would be under water in a regular high tide event by the year 2050.

But that’s not all. Sections of the South Park, Georgetown, Magnolia and Interbay neighborhoods, among others, are also in the path of sea level rise. Seattle Public Utilities worries about flooding affecting key infrastructure – like the West Point wastewater treatment plant and stormwater outflows around the Sound.

The city council’s Climate Action Plan makes 150 recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change across a variety of sectors.

The recommendations include things like providing incentives for more energy efficient buildings, getting more electric vehicles on the road, and promoting urban forestry in the hottest parts of the city.

The report also calls for the state government to tax climate pollution (as British Columbia did) or institute a cap and trade system, (as California did).

Last month high tides flooded 100 homes along Alki Beach in West Seattle.

But this city’s not alone in her suffering at the hands of climate change. Nor will she be in the future.

“There’s a large land area that is near and potentially vulnerable to these rising seas,” says Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. Snover co-authored the Northwest chapter of the draft National Climate Assessment released for review today.

Globally, sea level is projected to rise between 1 and 4 feet by the end of this century. In Oregon and Washington over 140 thousand acres of coastal land fall below that 4 foot mark.

That raises the question: Can all these climate action items proposed by the Seattle City Council actually accomplish anything?

“Seattle can do what Seattle can do,” Snover sats, “and it won’t solve the problem but all they can do is what they do.”

In the absence of federal climate policy there’s only so much any local jurisdiction can accomplish.

In a press release the Seattle City Council advised people living in coastal areas that are prone to flooding to buy insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program.

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