Monday, January 4, 2010

Highest Tide in Olympia Marks Sea-Level Rise Concerns and Local Action

by Janine Gates

Above: South Sounders woke up early, grabbed their coffee, and gathered on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia between 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. this morning to observe the year's highest tide on Budd Inlet. Yea, we're a pretty funny bunch here in Olympia.

According to the latest climate change information, melting ice caps and warming oceans could add up to five feet to current sea levels by the end of the century. For Olympia, that means most of downtown will be underwater when coupled with a normal high tide, according to the City of Olympia’s projected sea level rise studies.

Several dozen South Sounders braved the cold wind and rain to gather downtown on Percival Landing this morning to observe the highest tide of the year, which was expected to be 17+ feet.

Several speakers and a lively band, the Artesian Rumble Arkestra (ARK) entertained the crowd through pelting rain between 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. The highest tide level occurred at 8:37 a.m., and a moment of silence was requested of the crowd to reflect upon the implications climate change will have on our children and grandchildren, and the need for global and local action.

“The ocean is like a giant cruise ship - it has tremendous inertia and because of this, we’ve already locked in not only decades of future sea level rise, but centuries worth…By the end of this century we predict that sea levels in the Puget Sound could increase by over four feet…,” Spencer Reeder, lead policy strategist on climate change for the Washington State Department of Ecology told the crowd.

Reeder said that Ecology has just launched a new observation and research program with federal partners at the U.S. Geological Survey. For more information about this program, go to and follow the “Facing Climate Change” links.

Monica Hoover, a concerned Thurston County citizen, said she was glad to see such a good turnout for the event. "It shows how much we care about our shoreline and our environment," said Hoover.

Hoover is particularly concerned about the Port of Olympia's development of the NorthPoint area, and circulated a petition asking port commissioners to halt all NorthPoint redevelopment projects, “pending a full and open public process of engagement and dialog.” The petition also asks that the commissioners suspend its exclusive development agreement with MJR Development to potentially develop the NorthPoint area with a hotel and restaurant.

MJR Development staff admitted at an October open house that they had not seen Olympia sea-level rise maps or data. According to city studies, the NorthPoint area would be underwater in the event of sea-level rise. Hoover said she will be presenting the signed petitions to commissioners on Monday, January 11, 5:30 p.m. when the Port commission has its next meeting. The usual location for Port of Olympia commission meetings is the LOTT Board Room at 111 Market St. NE. Check the website prior to the meeting:

Linton Wildrick, a Tumwater hydrogeologist, also turned out to see the high tide. Wildrick said he spent thousands of hours as a member of the now-defunct group, Friends of the Artesians, to find a replacement well for the one in the Diamond parking lot near Fourth Avenue, and worked to get a permit for a new well on the port property.

“The tide is pretty interesting....We’re in a unique location. The weight of the glaciers from 13,000 years ago depressed the earth’s crust, maybe by tens of feet, and the land, since the glaciers melted, has been rebounding ever since. It’s very, very slow but it’s just enough to help...but the margin is very, very thin,” said Wildrick.

Andy Haub, City of Olympia Public Works planning and engineering manager, is taking the lead on sea-level rise issues for the city and attended the high tide observance. Asked about Wildrick’s assessment that the land is “rebounding,” Haub said, “I don’t disagree with him, but some people may say that the elevation in Olympia is sinking. About 25% of expected sea level rise in the next 100 years could be attributed to geologic subsidence, but now that’s being questioned…it will take about 20 years to figure it out….”

Haub will be giving an overview of recently completed land elevation-related work on the potential impacts of sea level rise on downtown Olympia. The event, Monday, January 11, 7-9 p.m., Olympia Center, 222 Colunbia St., is co-sponsored by Olympia Climate Action. For more information about the event, contact Barb Scavezze at 878-9901 or Haub recently gave a similar report to the Olympia City Council. City of Olympia Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change information is available at:

Haub later said that by 9:30 a.m., the tide had lost a half foot or so.

“We keep looking for all these dramatic signs but it’s going to be incremental…we’re better without the drama (sudden, catastrophic events) but that’s what gets people’s attention," said high tide observer Scott Morgan.

Above: Several dozen South Sounders braved the cold wind and rain to gather downtown on Percival Landing this morning to observe the highest tide of the year.