Friday, January 5, 2018

Witness to King Tide in Olympia

Above: A famous image painted on the side of Childhood’s End Gallery in downtown Olympia, Great Wave off Kanagawa, is a likely future for Olympia. A recent city study found that sea level rise will greatly increase wave hazards along Olympia’s shoreline in the future. Budd Inlet experienced an estimated 16.9 foot king tide on Friday. 

-January 31 Meeting of Elected Officials to Discuss Sea Level Rise Planning

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

While the Friday morning king tide was not as dramatic as in the past, the sight of high water steadily rising to the edge of the boardwalk at Percival Landing still provided an opportunity to witness the possible future of downtown Olympia.

Not as high as the predicted 17.3 foot level, tidal activity was somewhat uneventful and did not require the type of emergency city response seen for past events.

Still, Olympia area community members walked along Percival Landing and gathered at the Harbor House to witness the event.

Donuts, cookies and coffee helped foster a sense of camaraderie amid uncertainty.

Under a nearby shelter on Percival Landing, Eric Christiansen, City of Olympias water resources planning and engineering manager, observed the tide as it peaked at 8:40 a.m. 

The atmospheric pressure was a little above normal so it came in two to three inches under predictions, he said. Pending verification, Christiansen estimated that the tide rose to 16.9 feet.

“We’re fortunate – we didn’t see water in the streets or in the parking lots,” said Christiansen.

Above: The Capitol Building in Olympia, Washington is witness to the rising waters of Budd Inlet around the Oyster House restaurant in downtown Olympia on Friday morning. At far right is the nine story Capitol Center Building, also known as Views on 5th, currently proposed to be redeveloped and expanded. It stands in a flood zone.

Olympia, located at the southernmost tip of Budd Inlet, experiences one of the largest tide ranges in Puget Sound. Portions of the city’s downtown area and the Port of Olympia are built on fill, creating an estimated 4,000 feet of land north into Budd Inlet.

Many of these areas are susceptible to flooding, and in fact, are sinking. Add to that, Olympia is located in a region that is expected to see a ten to twenty percent increase in annual maximum precipitation by the end of the century.

In 2011, the City of Olympia funded a study to develop an engineered response to sea level rise. The study examined impacts to the downtown area for sea level rise amounts up to 50 inches. 

At 17 feet, water is seen in the streets of downtown Olympia, particularly on Sylvester Street near the Oyster House restaurant. Over 17 feet, water is seen in downtown area parking lots.

Interviewed by Little Hollywood last week, Andy Haub, City of Olympia water resources director, said that improvements were accomplished last year around areas that see the worst flooding such as the parking lot around Budd Bay Café on Percival Landing and around Olympia Supply on Seventh Avenue, which is a solid six inches below a 17 foot tide.

“The work at Columbia and Seventh Avenue has been completed. The stormwater pipe system in that area used to convey a lot of runoff from upland areas such as portions of the Capitol Campus to the low lying area by Olympia Supply. The flows would then struggle to get into Capitol Lake when lake levels were high. We needed to pump the flows, or risk flooding. Now, the upland area has been pipe directed to the outlet as a pressurized system. The flows can’t bubble up out of the street drains - it’s a sealed pipe system. We still need to pump, but only the minor flows in the immediate vicinity of Olympia Supply.  It’s a far more manageable and a far lower risk of flooding,” he said.

An open house and community workshop on January 18, 6:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m. and will be held at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia Street NW, in downtown Olympia.

Haub referred to the city’s recently completed sea level rise response planning science review document which will be reviewed at an upcoming meeting of local elected officials on January 31.

The meeting for elected officials will be held at Olympia City Hall in council chambers from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Due to time constraints, public comment at this workshop will be limited to written form.

The document was compiled in October 2017 by AECOM, the consultant used by the City of Olympia, the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance to identify climate hazards impacting the city. It focuses on the three primary climate hazards that will impact Olympia in the future: sea level rise, coastal storms and precipitation.

The document does not make recommendations on adoption of a specific climate change scenario and planning efforts into the city’s sea level rise response plan.

Asked what sea level rise projections the recently completed Downtown Strategy is based upon, Haub said that it doesn’t call out a specific projection.

“Our various planning work has relied on the same projections for several years now. It’s from the National Research Council’s study of potential West Coast sea rise. The numbers are pretty much the same, but we can also add in the likelihood that Olympia is subsiding at eight to twelve inches possibly by the end of the century,” added Haub. 

Besides other factors that make Olympia especially susceptible to sea level rise, the sinking of Olympia could contribute an additional four inches of sea level rise by 2030, six inches by 2050, and twelve inches by 2100, says the study.

Above: Thad Curtz, former chair of the City of Olympia's Utilities Advisory Committee, speaks with Judy Bardin, a former member of the city's Planning Commission, in the Harbor House on Friday morning. Olympia area community members gathered at and around the Harbor House to witness the king tide and catch up with each other in real time.

Editor's Note, January 7: The location for the January 18 sea level rise meeting has been corrected. It will be held at The Olympia Center.

Editor's Note, January 9: A sea level rise open house and community workshop will be held January 18. An elected officials workshop will be held January 31 in Olympia City Hall, council chambers, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The story has been corrected and Little Hollywood apologizes for the confusion. Meetings are often cancelled and locations changed. Go to the City of Olympia's sea level rise planning website for the latest information.

Little Hollywood has written many stories about previous king tides, storm surges, Olympia’s sea level rise planning, projections, and flooding in downtown Olympia. For more stories and photos, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine. To find stories on Facebook, go to Little Hollywood Media.