Thursday, January 24, 2019

Olympia Tides Provide Sea Level Rise Lessons

Above: What was predicted to be the highest tide in Olympia this winter didn’t happen Thursday morning, but local science teacher Lara Tukarski, above, wasn’t disappointed. Every king tide is a new learning opportunity.

Olympia’s draft sea level rise adaption plan for up to 68 inches is estimated to cost between $190 to $350 million

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Every king tide is a new learning opportunity, even when it isn’t all that exciting.

At 16.95 feet, Thursday’s tide was predicted to be the highest in Olympia this winter, but it topped out at 16.5 feet, said Andy Haub, water resources director for the City of Olympia.

“The barometric pressure was relatively high, so the tides were about 0.3 or 0.4 feet lower than predicted. It’s when the pressure is low that things get interesting,” said Haub, who announced last week that he is leaving his position with the city on April 5.

For the city, storm surges from nearby Budd Inlet make for “interesting” training sessions in the protection of infrastructure and businesses from dramatic downtown street and parking lot flooding.

Notably, the first sites prone to flooding are Capitol Lake, Fourth and Water Street, and the Oyster House Restaurant on Fourth Avenue and Sylvester Street.

The highest tides in Washington usually occur in winter. These tides, known as king tides, occur when the sun and moon align, causing an increased gravitational pull on the Earth’s oceans.

Viewing king tides offers a chance to visualize what “the new normal” may look like for downtown Olympia in the future as sea levels rise.

Lara Tukarski, an environmental science teacher at Nova Middle School, stopped by Percival Landing during her planning period to witness the king tide

A climate resiliency fellow with the Pacific Northwest Climate Leaders, Tukarski is working on a climate action project with her sixth grade students, South Sound GREEN, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Thurston Conservation District. 

South Sound GREEN is a watershed education program that engages about 1,200 area students in hands-on science and engineering practices related to water quality in South Sound.

Tukarskis students will first study climate change through problem-based investigations in her classroom lab, focusing on real-time data collection. 

To learn about the regional impacts of climate change, they will then explore Olympias urban topography, Capitol Lake, shoreline restoration, downtown flooding, and sea level rise projections.

“My intention is that they will be designing and engineering their own ideas and plans to help mitigate sea level rise, studying all aspects of watershed health monitoring, and working with people who are involved in making the decisions about the infrastructure. 

“Then, the students are going to pitch their ideas to the city. It’ll be a combination of options. We’re going to look at what to do with existing infrastructure and what it means for the people who already live here,” Tukarski said. 

Tukarski laughed as the sounds from the construction of a new development, The Laurana, interrupted our conversation. 

The three story mixed-use development at 210 State Street, the site of the former Les Schwab building, will include a restaurant and 44 housing units just a few feet from Budd Inlet.

“ - and for those who are coming,”she added. “The city hasn’t been officially pulled into the conversation at this point, but I'm excited my students will have an opportunity to present their research and ideas to city planners next fall,” she said.  

Above: For the Percival Landing area, mid-term strategies for 24 inches of sea level rise includes a combination of raised planters, flood gates, a raised wall, a berm, and elevated paths. Photo shows the tide at 15.9 feet at 8:41 a.m. as the tide was receding.

Draft City of Olympia Sea Level Rise Adaption Plan

The city has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to saving downtown Olympia and its infrastructure from sea level rise.

Key areas include Capitol Lake and the lower Deschutes Watershed, Percival Landing, the isthmus, the LOTT Clean Water Alliance Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, the Port of Olympia Peninsula, and storm water systems.

The city’s sea level rise adaption plans will be phased in over time.

In the immediate future, up to five years, 2020 - 2025, the city will plan for up to six inches of sea level rise. The cost for these efforts is estimated to be about $1.25 million.

Mid-term, between five to thirty years, 2025 - 2050, the city will plan for up to 24 inches of sea level rise. The cost for these efforts is estimated to be about $15 million to $20 million.

Long-term, thirty or more years, 2050 and beyond, the city will plan for 68 inches of sea level rise.

The total cost for the city’s sea level rise adaption efforts to plan for up to 68 inches of sea level rise is estimated between $190 million to 350 million.

Upcoming Sea Level Rise Meetings

City of Olympia staff will be available Saturday, January 26, 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. at the Harbor House on Percival Landing to discuss sea level rise issues. 

High tide will occur at 9:50 a.m. This is a public opportunity to view potential sea level rise adaptation strategies and learn about the city’s draft sea level rise response plan.

A Joint Elected Officials meeting on Wednesday, January 30, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Port of Olympia meeting room, 606 Columbia Street NW. 

This meeting is an opportunity for discussion among elected officials and staff from the City of Olympia, Port of Olympia, and LOTT Clean Water Alliance. Public comments at the meeting will be limited to written form.

Above: The draft Olympia Sea Level Rise Response Plan was revealed at a public meeting on December 11, 2018.

For more information and photos of previous king tide events, downtown flooding, Capitol Lake, joint elected officials sea level rise meetings, community presentations and Andy Haub, go to Little Hollywood at and type key words into the search button.

For more information on sea level rise from the City of Olympia, go to To sign up for the city’s sea level rise e-newsletter, go to