Government Impacts

Emergency Management
Department of Emergency Management

Pierce County Emergency Management works in partnership with cities, counties, state and federal agencies, tribes, special purpose districts, non-profit organizations, community groups, and businesses to provide leadership and support in developing a regional approach to emergency planning, response, and recovery. These collaborations are essential for effective coordination of information, resources, and services throughout the region.

Climate Impacts

Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and severity of severe weather, flood, heat wave, fire, and landslide emergencies that will require a coordinated response. This increase will require additional and expanded emergency response.

Current Efforts

Mitigation Planning

Region 5 All Hazard Mitigation Plan

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Regional Mitigation Collaboration

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Response Planning

Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP)

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Pierce County Continuity of Government (COGO) and Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plans 

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Public Education

Emergency Management’s community outreach program manages efforts to get the community personally informed about and prepared for all hazards, including climate change 

Early Action (0-3 Years)
Emergency Management has identified three new actions to be completed over the next three years:
  • Annually review mitigation actions carried out within Pierce County and propose modifications based on current and changing conditions.
  • Integrate current information about climate change impacts into ongoing public education presentations and campaigns.
  • Incorporate a natural hazard scenario that includes the magnified impacts of climate change into a drill/exercise for emergency response coordination.
Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
Emergency Management is engaged in a long-term, multi-faceted recovery planning effort:
  • Recovery Planning: Pierce County is working to establish a recovery framework to assist individuals, families, businesses, and government to recover from an emergency in a manner that sustains the physical, emotional, social, and economic well-being of the community. The recovery framework will enable Pierce County to execute the six Recovery Support Functions identified within the National Disaster Recovery Framework.
Airports & Ferries
Planning & Public Works
Airports & Ferries

Pierce County owns two ferry vessels and three landings which service Anderson and Ketron Islands. The ferries transport about 400,000 riders annually and make approximately 14 runs daily between Anderson Island and the town of Steilacoom.

Ferry Climate Impacts

The County also owns two airports; Thun Field, located in Puyallup is home to about 230 aircraft and has about 100,000 take-offs and landings annually. Tacoma Narrows Airport, located in Gig Harbor, is home to about 140 aircraft and experiences about 80,000 take-offs and landings annually.

Airports Climate Impacts

Airports and Ferries are ready to adjust to the climate impacts we see coming.
Looking at the viability of retrofitting our ferry docks by 2040 and the viability of an electric ferry are crucial efforts.

Current Efforts
  • Continue to implement asset management for both the Ferry and Airport to develop effective maintenance/replacement schedule.
  • Continue to monitor storm water systems at the Airports.
  • Ensure that both County and contracted staff receive annual training in heat awareness.  

Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Build data for our asset management system.
  • Identify trends in the life cycle of Airport and Ferry assets and search for longer-lasting, adaptable assets.
  • Ensure that procurement decisions consider changes in climate.

Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • Continue to identify trends in the life cycle of Airport and Ferry assets and look for longer-lasting, adaptable assets.
  • Ensure storm water systems are adequate and maintain runway/apron areas.

Planning & Land Services
Planning & Land Services

Pierce County complies with all requirements of the Growth Management Act, which includes adoption and periodic updates of the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan and Countywide Planning Policies and participation in development and maintenance of Multicounty Planning Policies. The GMA contains the primary state-level mandates to identify and protect critical areas, with special consideration given to areas that support salmonids, and to identify and protect resource lands of long-term significance. Pierce County uses Washington State Office of Financial Management and Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) growth projections for planning purposes. 

The Pierce County Comprehensive Plan lays out a policy framework for land use in Pierce County, which is implemented by the Title 18 series of development regulations. 
Climate Impacts

A core focus of GMA and the County’s Comprehensive Plan is ensuring that designated urban growth areas and planned infrastructure improvements are adequate for anticipated population growth. According to current estimates, the population of the central Puget Sound region is projected to increase from about 3.69 million people in 2010 to nearly 5 million people in 2040. However, some areas of the United States are projected to face substantial drought and heat impacts from the changing climate, which could shift migration patterns towards areas less impacted by climate change, such as the Puget Sound region. Current growth projections used by PSRC do not account for increased migration due to climate disruption. Increased population growth beyond what is planned would strain services and infrastructure and could result in political pressure to expand the urban growth boundary.

Current Efforts
  • The 2015 update to Pierce County’s Comprehensive Plan included incorporating policies for more dense transit-oriented development along major transportation corridors. This development pattern will result in more efficient use of land and delivery of services within the County’s Urban Growth Area.
  • Pierce County continuously monitors population growth projections, housing trends, employment trends and considers impacts of continued growth in developing land use policy.
Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Four community plan updates are underway in the County’s central urban growth boundary: Parkland-Spanaway-Midland, Frederickson, Mid-County, and South Hill. These updates include a proposal to adopt Centers and Corridors policies and regulations that would implement the Transit-Oriented development policies in the Comprehensive Plan.
  • An update to the Shoreline Master Program and Shoreline Management regulations is underway which will update shoreline buffer and use standards adopted in the 1970s.
Roads & Bridges
Roads & Bridges

Pierce County Planning and Public Works Maintenance and Operations Division (PCPPWMOD) maintains roads, bridges and other roadway infrastructure throughout unincorporated Pierce County.  This includes 1,560 centerline miles of County roads, 153 bridges, 20,300 catch basins and 2,500,000 linear feet of drainage pipe.  The PCPPWMOD core mission is to maintain, operate and preserve Pierce County’s roadway system and its supporting infrastructure.  Roadway infrastructure is managed using the principles of asset management which is a coordinated, data driven decision making and action process which involves regular inspections to determine if and when maintenance is needed. Asset management works to achieve management goals in a manner which is transparent and fiscally responsible while meeting service level goals at the lowest cost.
Climate Impacts

Climate change poses many risks and uncertainties to how PCPPWMOD can ensure safe, reliable transportation to the public. Without proactive steps to anticipate potential changes and respond to them, the ability of PCPPWMOD to support its core mission could be compromised. Changes with respect to relatively short duration, extreme events often result in the most significant consequences. While PCPPWMOD may be prepared to respond to an individual event, the cumulative impacts of more severe and frequent events could signal a change to future business practices. Planning for long term changes is essential for success managing future climate related impacts.   

Rising Sea Levels

To mitigate and assess how climate change could impact roadway infrastructure as a result of rising sea levels, PCPPWROD staff used lidar data in a geographic information system (GIS) to identify roads and bridges within two feet of the mean higher high-water line (MHHWL) in marine areas. There have been many studies done to predict how much sea levels could rise within the next 80 years and they range from one to five feet. Two feet was chosen as a mid-level threshold by the Pierce County Climate Resiliency Team. Twenty five road segments totaling about seven miles, three bridges and 188 culverts would flood more under this scenario.   

View List

Frequently Flooded Pierce County Owned & Maintained Roads

In addition to this, staff researched historic flooding data to identify County owned and maintained roads that have flooded in the past (See Table 2). The roads listed below will be at an even higher risk of flooding in the future because precipitation events are predicted to have longer durations and greater intensity. It is likely that more roads will be added to this list over time as flooding becomes more frequent and severe.

View List

Current Efforts
PCPPWMOD staff have received FEMA sponsored emergency management response training and utilize the National Incident Management System model to prepare for, prevent, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents or events regardless of the incident’s cause, size, location, or complexity.  PCPPWMOD also utilizes the Incident Command System which is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of an emergency response event.
Emergency response efforts focus on public safety and returning roadways to operational functionality. Resources are first distributed to priority roads classified as major arterials and collectors, Lifeline Emergency routes, Access roads to highways and freeways and Pierce Transit and school bus routes to ensure that these roadways are kept open and operational.  As conditions improve the resources are distributed out to the other roads in our system which are primarily local access roadways.  The current climate change concerns indicate that significant and severe weather-related emergency response volumes will increase over time and will likely affect our ability to meet our mission goals  

PCPPWMOD will work with County staff along with local, state and federal agencies to identify potential funding sources for supplemental maintenance and preservation work required as a result of flooding.  Supplemental funding will help PCPPWMOD respond to emergency events in a timely and effective manner so that roadways are kept safe and open.  PCPPWMOD will make sure that any work done is in compliance with all local, state, and federal environmental regulations.  

Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Identify Vulnerable Areas and Assess Predicted Impacts to Businesses, Residents and the Environment
  • Develop a Prioritization Decision Tree to Determine Where and When to Invest Funds for Infrastructure Improvements
  • Identify Potential Funding Sources to Address Site Specific Climate Change Resiliency Projects
  • Work with other Departments to Develop Heat Stress Prevention Policy for Staff
  • Evaluate Programs on a Regular Basis to Incorporate New Information
  • Work Closely with Emergency Management During Emergency Events to Alert Travelers of Problems
  • Identification of External Resources That Can Be Used For Emergencies
Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • Train Personnel on the Potential Impacts of Climate Change and How This May Change Their Roles and ResponsibilitiesSecure Funding to Upgrade Vulnerable Transportation Resources
  • Revise Budgeting Process and Protocols to Account for Recent Trends Which are Different from Historical Baselines
  • Assess HMA Mix to Determine if Changes are Needed
  • Improve Inter-Agency Coordination, Information Sharing, Resource Sharing, and Risk Assessment with Key Stakeholders to Streamline Process During Emergency Events
  • Establish Honest and Continued Dialogue with the Public and Elected Officials about Funding Shortfalls, Climate Change Impacts and Realistic Expectations for Level of Service
Wastewater Treatment Plant
Treatment Plant 15
Planning & Public Works
Wastewater Treatment Plant

The Planning and Public Works Sewer Division collects and treats wastewater within unincorporated Pierce County and in parts of eight cities and towns. Approximately 294,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers are served by the Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in University Place. A second plant – the Cascadia Wastewater Treatment Plant at Tehaleh – is scheduled to start operations in 2018 near Bonney Lake. In addition to the two treatment plants, the County also owns and maintains 700 miles of pipe, 100 pump stations and two large onsite septic systems. 

Climate Impacts

Sewer Division facilities may experience the effects of stronger storms and increased flooding due to climate change. Heavy rainfall could infiltrate underground pipes and other facilities, which would increase the volume of wastewater entering the County’s wastewater treatment plants and could affect treatment processes during major storm events. Sewer manholes and other aspects of the collection system could become flooded by excessive stormwater runoff, requiring repair or replacement. 

Ocean acidification, sea level rise and warming temperatures may also affect wastewater treatment operations. As Puget Sound water quality changes due to acidification, wastewater discharge permit requirements may become more stringent. Rising sea levels could increase salt water infiltration into sewer infrastructure located within intertidal and submerged marine environments. (Map included) Warmer temperatures will likely affect the biological processes that occur within County wastewater treatment plants, which could require operational changes to keep sensitive treatment processes in balance. 

Because of facility design, sewer infrastructure and operations are not likely to be significantly affected by increased fire danger, drought or landslides. 

Climate change will have a significant effect on the sewer treatment plant but we are well prepared for population growth and higher level of water quality that will likely be necessary.

Current Efforts
  • The Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant is well prepared for stricter permit requirements. Recent capital improvements include biological nutrient removal and reclaimed water systems, which may eventually be required to protect Puget Sound water quality.
  • Low infiltration rates and wastewater-only collection system design avoids excessive peaking at treatment plants during storm events
  • New projects incorporate “bolt-down” manholes to prevent popping during flooding
Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Continue monitoring inflow and infiltration within the collection system, identify potential problem areas and implement improvements when feasible
  • Operate biological nutrient removal processes in compliance with permit requirements to protect Puget Sound water quality
  • Incorporate climate change considerations into long-range planning efforts
Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • Expand onsite use of reclaimed water at Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • Partner with water purveyors and others to expand reclaimed water use and explore options for increased groundwater infiltration more broadly within the County’s sewer service area
  • Monitor operations and maintenance for impacts due to climate change, analyze for long-term trends and incorporate findings into operations

Surface Water Management & Salmon Recovery
Planning & Public Works
Surface Water Management & Salmon Recovery

Surface Water Management (SWM) is a utility within planning and public works. SWM has broad ranging responsibilities from flood risk management, water quality compliance, shellfish protection, salmon recovery, and property management.

Climate Impacts
Pierce County’s resiliency plan identifies nine major climate impacts and SWM has a role in mitigating, or is impacted by, each of them as described below.

  1. Sea Level Rise
  2. Water Temperature
  3. Sediment
  4. Wildfire & Heat
  5. Mountain Glaciers
  6. Flooding/Precipitation
  7. Ocean Acidity
  8. Landslides

The moderate estimate from NOAA is that Puget Sound sea level could rise by 50 inches by 2100. This would lead to more severe coastal flooding which will impact properties and structures in low lying coastal areas as powerful waves will be able to travel further inland. SWM will be responsible for updating flood risk mapping and communicating these changing risks. Change in sea level will affect ongoing projects such as Clear Creek that has a goal of optimizing farming in the floodplain and in areas where there are intertidal salmon recovery projects. These changes aren’t necessarily adverse, but they could alter the original intent of the projects. SWM has purchased many riverine properties from willing sellers tired of repairing repeated flooding damage or worrying about potential flooding. This program would likely expand to add coastal properties as damages mount. Sea level rise will put additional pressure on salmon habitat as shoreline habitat risks being eliminated where shoreline armoring is expanded.

Current Efforts
  • Climate change is considered in our planning and project scopes of work for: 
    • United States Army Corps of Engineers General Investigation Study for the Puyallup River Basin.
    • Habitat conservation plan
    • Pierce County River Flood Hazard Management Plan
    • Salmon Recovery Strategy implemented by Pierce County with Puget Sound Partnership and Washington State’s Recreation and Conservation Office
  • Identified setback levees and analyzing/ prioritizing new setback locations 
  • Monitoring streamflow, temperatures, and weather across the county
    • Identifying areas of cold water refuge for salmonids as well as areas with high shade potential 
Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Developing a sediment management tool
  • Complete the USACE General Investigation on the Puyallup River basin
  • Updating river and stream hydrology with latest records
  • Updating flood mapping, stream locations, and drainage inventory
  • Continue to construct identified setback levees and analyzing/ prioritizing new setback
  • Engage with federal, state, and local researchers to be up to-date with best available science
  • Monitoring streamflow, temperatures, and weather across the county Identifying areas of cold water refuge for salmonids as well as areas with high shade potential 
  • Incorporate climate change considerations into long-range planning efforts
Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • Continue to construct identified setback levees and analyzing/ prioritizing new setback levees
  • Begin implementing the USACE General Investigation on the Puyallup River basin
  • Continued work in the Clear Creek area for flood, fish and farming
  • Review floodplain building standards to ensure new construction is built safely
  • Monitoring streamflow, temperatures, and weather across the county Identifying areas of cold water refuge for salmonids as well as areas with high shade potential
  • Full update of the River Flood Hazard Management Plan that will include expanded climate change elements.


Pierce County owns and manages 72 buildings and other infrastructure throughout the county to house government operations.

Climate Impacts

Pierce County Facilities will likely experience stronger storms in the near term. These events will increase the amount of stormwater runoff from County facilities. Flooding could impact access to facilities (high ground access).

Pierce County facilities will experience higher average and peak temperatures during summer months. In addition, warmer and wetter rainy seasons will result in increased understory fire fuels. Combined with hotter, dryer summers, this will accompany an increase in wildfire risk in areas previously safe from concern. 

"Our facilities will need to be prepared for more storm water and higher energy costs
to deal with increased air conditioning cost."

Current Efforts
  • Pierce County owned facilities are currently believed to be outside the floodplain and out of known landslide areas.
  • Pierce County is home to the Office of Sustainability and the Resource Conservation Management program that has reduced our reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Facilities works to support DEM’s incident needs.
Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Climate risks and resilience opportunities (Cooling Stations) should be included in the review of all property acquisitions.
  • Facilities should partner with Parks and DEM to create an extreme heat plan for at-risk community members. The plan should consider how we make our facilities and parks work as local cooling centers if they are strategically located.
  • Facilities should coordinate with Parks and Public Works to develop best practices that limit forest fire potential at owned properties. A County forester position dedicated to planning and coordination would ensure effective execution. 
  • Facilities in connection with H.R., Risk, Parks and Public Works and Planning should create an extreme heat plan to protect outdoor workers during extreme heat events over 90 degrees.
  • Evaluate stormwater management systems, then select and act to upgrade systems to meet the increased precipitation. Enact a continuous evaluation and improvement plans specifically directed to determine whether storm water runoff will affect Pierce County properties. Review all new property acquisitions with this concern in mind.
Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • New facilities should be located in areas with good access from flooding and are designed to deal with hotter weather with air quality filters to deal with wildfire smoke.
  • Air conditioning needs will increase as summer temperatures continue to rise. As extreme heat events increase, undersized systems may need to be replaced. Increased temperatures will increase both capital and operational costs. Planning for these contingencies will reduce costs associated with unplanned replacements and upgrades. 

Pierce County Parks

Created in 1958, Pierce County Parks and Recreation Services (Parks) provides park and recreation services to the residents of Pierce County, focusing on the unmet needs of residents living in unincorporated areas. 

Parks owns and manages 5,101 park-land acres that are the subject of level of service under the Growth Management Act.  In addition to infrastructure such as play fields, playgrounds, community centers, golf courses, and an ice skating rink, these park-land acres also include a diverse range of natural resources such as shorelines, wetlands, streams, lakes, prairies and old growth forests.

Parks has identified ways that Climate Change will affect how we operate our park-land. Planning for these potential changes now will limit the risks that Climate Change present our organization in the future. 

Frontier Park

Sprinker Recreation Center

Lake Tapps Park

  1. Sea Level Rise
  2. Precipitation
  3. Ocean Acidity
  4. Water Temperature Increases
  5. Landslides
  6. Wildfire & Extreme Heat
  7. Flooding & Sediment

The rise in sea level will reduce the size of shoreline and potentially limit public access to shoreline areas.  Park-land shorelines are primarily high bank and should remain above the projected increases, the exception being Chambers Creek Regional Park.

Early Action (0-3 Years)
  • Landscaping Policy: Parks will develop a landscaping policy for our facilities that considers options for using native vegetation, firewise/waterwise landscaping, and rain gardens. This policy will look at planting drought tolerant landscaping when appropriate and using best practices to provide for plant health and lower maintenance. 
  • To save water, Parks can alter landscaping by removing grass or letting grass go dormant where it is not necessary, this will save money and decrease the time and energy to maintain them. Investing in efficient irrigation systems, such as drip systems vs. overhead, can also maximize smart use of water. 
  • Forest Health: Manage forestlands for healthy stand density to reduce the potential for forest fires and create more drought resilient conditions. This includes decreasing fuel loading and increasing available resources for trees.  This will require silviculture practices such as selective logging in appropriate setting (such as former timberland re-planted for high stand density) and planting for species diversification.  
  • Green Infrastructure: Parks is committed to stormwater infiltration and improving green infrastructure in its park-lands to minimize the stormwater negative impacts. This includes implementing and maintaining pervious asphalt, infiltration ponds, and other best management practices as well as increasing and/or maintaining tree canopy and native vegetation.

Long Term Action 
(4-10 Years)
  • Shoreline Improvements: Sea level rise limits the size of the beach during all tides and causes erosion along the BNSF rail line within Chambers Bay Park. Although the railroad will continue to act as a water barrier, Parks will need to plan for sea level rise by investigating potential alternate shoreline access locations.
  • Sea level rise could influence the Chambers Creek Dam at high tide and eventually lead to overtopping. Park actions to address this may include supporting the removal of Chambers Creek Dam as it will restore natural conditions at the mouth of Chambers Creek and improve fish passage.
  • Public Facilities: Use community centers to serve as cooling areas during periods of extreme heat; additionally, installing play features such as spray parks and maintaining beach access can support cool recreational activities.