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King tides offer clues about effects of rising sea levels

Washington Department of Ecology experts study king tides to forecast what to expect with sea level rise and to decide what to do to adapt to it.

OLYMPIA, Wash — This winter, we've seen what king tides can do when coupled with a big storm surge. In Washington, state experts studying sea level rise are learning from these events to help coastal communities cope.

The annual king tides roll in the highest tides of the season.

This year, one notable instance happened during a stormy time that added to the surge, bringing seawater flooding and even jellyfish to downtown Olympia. It is these types of events ecology experts say show what to expect in coming years and decades.

"They give us a real glimpse of what sea level rise would look like in the future; they are the highest tides of the year and typically what would be associated with coastal flooding," said George Kaminsky, a coastal engineer with Washington Department of Ecology.

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KGW spoke with Kaminsky and others in the department who are involved with learning what to expect in the near and long term, and how to adjust to protect Washington’s 56 cities and counties that have marine shorelines.

“We know that there are about 1,400 homes and structures that could be at risk of coastal flooding (due to sea level rise) by 2050,” said Kurt Hart, communication manager at Ecology.

The Washington Department of Ecology has been studying the state's changing coast for many years and how the change is connected to climate change. They also study tectonic shifts that affect ground levels at the coast.

Credit: WA Dept. of Ecology

The state works with local leaders to mitigate the damage now and in the future. One current project is an $88,000 dollar grant for Pacific County, home to the Long Beach Peninsula, to help come up with a protection plan there.

“They're looking at inundation hazards to existing shorelines and different assets in their community that they need to protect and how to plan for those, and how best to engage the community,” said Department Floodplain Manager Alex Rosen.

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These experts said with sea levels expected to rise about a foot in the next 80 years, working with coastal communities is key.

“It's really encouraging and inspiring in the communities where they're working on this—both from a planning perspective and all the way down to designing on-the-ground projects— addressing the current hazards, but with the future-looking lens,” said Ecology Department Manager Bobbak Talebi.

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