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Addressing Coastal Hazards & Economic Resilience on the Washington Coast

Surfrider Foundation has been actively addressing coastal hazards and the impacts of climate change for quite a while, you can learn more about it via our Coastal Preservation initiative page. In Washington, this work has focused on shoreline planning at the local county level, addressing the impacts of ocean acidification, raising awareness about Sea Level Rise through our engagement on King Tides, and serving as the recreational representative on the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council (WCMAC) where our focus over the past few years has been to develop recommendations on Coastal Hazards and Economic Resilience for the Washington Coast.

Vulnerable infrastructure. Photo by Gus Gates, aerial support provided by LightHawk.

WCMAC was created, in part, to provide recommendations to the governor and legislature on coastal resource management issues (43.143.060 RCW). In 2018, it was asked to identify high priority needs and actions to carry out the recommendations from the “Washington State Coast Resilience Assessment” led by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center. At the recent June 2021 meeting, WCMAC came to consensus on a list of the 12 most urgent and actionable evidence-based recommendations (see attachment A in link below). These recommendations represent the culmination of a multi-year collaborative effort (see attachment B in link below).

Crystal Dingler, Chairwoman of WCMAC summed things up well in her recent letter to the Governor, Legislators, and WA Congressional Members when she said, "Environmentally and economically, we cannot wait to take action. Hard-pressed counties and communities have limited capacity to plan for future conditions on their own. The planning that is being done is incident-specific and lacks coordination with neighboring jurisdictions, tribes, and potential project partners. Coastal governments need the State to fund personnel to coordinate and develop long-term plans. This would help guide planning efforts, develop project proposals, test theories, and initiate funding streams. Without this support, the Washington coast will continue to lack the resilience to come back strongly from economic and environmental hazards."

Ocean Shores development threatened from eroding shoreline. Photo Gus Gates, aerial support provided by LightHawk.

Two of the specific recommendations are especially appealing to Surfrider Foundation.

One recommendation on Sea Level Rise planning says that: "WCMAC recommends that the WA Legislature and the Governor develop State requirements for local governments to address sea level rise and provide adequate funding, guidance, and tools for sea level rise planning." This recommendation is exactly in line with what we have been advocating for in our annual State of The Beach Report for years.

Another recommendation would require public disclosure of coastal hazards during real estate transactions: "WCMAC recommends that the WA Legislature and the Governor update disclosure requirements to require disclosure of coastal hazard risks (including erosion, sea level rise, and tsunamis) in property sales."

The American Dream, as embedded in our Declaration of Independence, says we all have inalienable rights to pursue happiness, and historically, Americans have looked at home ownership as a stage “in the pursuit of happiness.” However, exorbitant real estate prices, coupled with increasing sea level rise and climate change impacts, are making that dream less possible. Surfrider firmly believes that every potential homeowner has the inalienable right to know if a home is in harm’s way.

Hawaiʻi just became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law requiring ‘sea level rise’ disclosures in real estate transactions. While most states, including Hawaiʻi, have laws that require sellers to disclose hazards (e.g. repetitive flooding, fires, tsunami, etc.), currently no state law requires a seller to disclose ‘sea level rise’ concerns.   

This new, forward-thinking law simply says that sellers must disclose whether the property lies within the sea level rise exposure area and thus if the property is at risk from sea level rise and coastal erosion. Learn more about it via the Surfrider Coastal Blog.

In conclusion, with these recent recommendations from the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council to focus more on coastal hazards and economic resiliency, Washington state has a real opportunity in the near future to take meaningful action and make significant investments that are needed to prepare and protect our communities, cultures, ecosystems, and economies for the changes that we see coming. It will take a sustained collaborative approach driven by active and informed coastal advocates and leaders rising to address this challenge. Stay tuned for more info in the coming months and years on how to get engaged in supporting these issues as campaigns.