Monday, December 17, 2012

Witnesses To High Tide in Olympia

Above: Olympia experienced a 17.6 foot high tide event this morning. The Welcome to Percival Landing sign, barely seen above, is half underwater at about 8:30 a.m. The words were fully underwater just minutes later.

Witnesses To High Tide in Olympia

by Janine Unsoeld

A group of about 30 community members met early this morning in Percival Landing's warm and cozy Harbor House for sweets, hot coffee, and conversation. Folks gathered not just to enjoy each other's company, but also to serve as climate change witnesses.

Olympia experienced a high tide this morning that literally threatened to lap at the walls and doors of at least one downtown business. Tides are everyday occurrences, of course, but their impacts are magnified when combined with sea-level rise and storm events.

While it wasn't the highest tide on record for downtown Olympia - Jim Lazar said he remembers an 18.1 foot tide in December of 1978 - the brief meeting prompted a renewed awareness and action in the face of climate disruptions and its causes.

"There was a predicted 16.6 feet high tide this morning, but it measured 17.6. It's the highest as I've ever seen it," said Andy Haub, city of Olympia's public works planning and engineering manager, as he walked along Percival Landing this morning.

"The barometric pressure was below 29 this morning - that's why we're seeing it this high. A low barometric pressure - that's what we've seen yesterday and today - can add a foot and a half, " he added.

Stephanie Johnson, city of Olympia's arts and events program manager, said the new portion of Percival Landing was designed at a height of 19 feet.

Above: Glen Anderson and TJ Johnson walk on the parking lot this morning behind the Oyster House restaurant, surrounded by the sea water of Puget Sound's Budd Inlet. On the far left is the Capitol Building.

Giving a whole new meaning to waterfront dining for downtown restaurants, the water elevation of Budd Inlet was higher than Olympia's street elevation, so Budd Inlet was flowing up into the stormwater pipes. Electrical outlets and wiring were visibly underwater near the Oyster House.

A truck driver with Food Services of America, delivering food to the Oyster House, attempted to maneuver his truck close enough to the business to avoid getting wet. He was not successful. His shoes and feet, up to his ankles, became fully soaked.

Stormwater and combined sewer drains were also seen backing up near Anthony's Restaurant and Budd Bay Cafe. Budd Inlet was also seen perilously close to Bayview Thriftway.

Above: Bayview Thriftway and Budd Inlet.
Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela were also at this morning's gathering to discuss sea-level rise issues. The gathering was hosted by the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation Climate Crisis Group, which also discussed the possible construction of a sea wall to protect downtown.

Buxbaum said that there is no doubt we are facing sea level rise "due to a lethal overheating of the planet Earth" and that it's time for a community conversation about the issue.

"We're dealing with antiquated planning systems...On a state and federal level, we need large scale infrastructure's really a challenge. Public awareness is's probably not going to be about one solution. We need to stick to the facts and not jump to conclusions. We need creative solutions and not assume that we have a solution, because we don't," said Buxbaum.

Former city councilmember TJ Johnson commented on the amount of money currently being proposed to rebuild the East coast areas recently hit by Hurricane Sandy. "There is not enough resources on the planet to retrofit all coastal based communities...we need place-based investments."

Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said she appreciated the conversation, saying it's one the community has not yet had. "Is a sea wall possible? Do we want to pay for it?"

Former mayor Bob Jacobs said that, in the past, the knee-jerk reaction was to say 'we're not going to abandon downtown' and protect downtown Olympia at all costs.

"But when the underlying factors change, it's time for all options to be on the table. It may be that some level of abandonment may be appropriate for some portions," said Jacobs.

For more information about confronting the climate crisis on a local level, go to the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation's website at: The organization has started a new climate action group that meets every second and fourth Tuesday at the Olympia Center.

Above: Sherri Goulet braves the wind and rain this morning along Percival Landing. During the gathering this morning, Goulet said that peace and justice issues are part of the climate change discussion, and "we need to bring it to folks so it's on their radar."