Cities, Counties To Pool Resources As They Brace For Climate Change Impacts

Dec 11, 2017

Flooding, wildfires, heat waves, air pollution: No one expects these anticipated impacts of climate change to respect city and county borders.

That's why local leaders plan to begin pooling resources and ideas next year as they brace for a potentially harsher future in the Puget Sound region. 

Officials across four counties are working toward forming the Puget Sound Regional Climate Preparedness Collaborative. It's based off similar collaborations in Florida, California, and New England

Kelly McGourty, who manages transportation planning for the Puget Sound Regional Council, is one of several people coordinating the effort in Washington. 

She said participants are asking, "How do we leverage opportunities so we're sharing information, we're sharing research opportunities, we're pursuing grants together as a regional to make sure the region is both prepared and economically competitive, should there be impacts?" 

The right kind of preparation, she said, could help the region market itself as a "resilient" place for businesses. 

Speaking in one voice on climate change, she added, could also help local leaders win grants and affect federal legislation. 

"If we all have the same basic data and information that we're working from in terms of the expectations of impacts, and then if we want to as a collaborative together provide comments to some of those things, they think that would be more powerful," McGourty said of regional leaders. 

Officials in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties are in talks to launch the collaboration next year, said Lara Whitely Binder, King County's climate preparedness specialist, who is among those playing an organizing role.

That includes officials from the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Shoreline, and Bremerton, as well as the Tulalip Tribes, Sound Transit, and the Northwest Seaport Alliance. 

The idea is for staff across various local governments and agencies to talk to each other as they design infrastructure such as stormwater systems and craft long-term plans for weathering the effects of climate change. 

Tacoma became one of the first participants to officially join the effort last week when the City Council passed a resolution. Other governments plan to participate without memorializing their membership with a vote. 

James Parvey, a member of Tacoma's Environmental Services Department, said collaboration would help the city deploy resources more strategically to deal with effects such sea level rise, changes in weather patterns, and the heat island effect.

"The benefit of participating in this collaboration will be to allow us to share expertise," Parvey told City Council members on Dec. 5. "Most of the agencies within the area are addressing climate change on their own in various ways, but we don't have a good forum for collaborating, sharing information, networking to get better communication out." 

Staff from local governments and agencies have been working on the collaboration for about a year, said Steve Adams, who leads urban resilience efforts for the Institute for Sustainable Communities. The Vermont-based nonprofit is playing a coordinating role

An initial meeting of elected officials is planned in March. Representatives from participating governments and agencies expect to convene quarterly after that.