Government Impacts

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 Pierce County Ferry System services three (3) landings. All landings are equipped with pontoon systems that allow the vessel end of the landing to remain at a constant height above the water level regardless of tide. 12 to 24 inches of mean tide level increase will have a varying degree of impact to ferry operations when conducting vehicle loading and off-loading evolutions. All three landings are expected to be replaced by 2040. During the replacement cycle, the landings will be updated to accommodate projected increases in mean tide levels.

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
The current storm water systems at Tacoma Narrows Airport and Thun Field are designed to accommodate significant rainfall. Recent observations from county staff and reports from the FAA suggest that the capacity is more than adequate for increases in precipitation. We do not anticipate the forecasted increases in temperature to have a significant negative effect on the runway/apron areas.
Airports and Ferry
Airports and Ferries will be crucial to our emergency response efforts as we respond to climate emergencies throughout Pierce County and the region.
We will also look at retrofitting our ferry docks by 2040 and the viability of an electric ferry.
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.
  • Monitor the potential of aviation biofuels, which have a lower carbon footprint, as they become more widely available.
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.

Emergency Management
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: Pierce County Departments and local governments within the county have developed and maintain a regional hazard mitigation plan that identifies strategies to reduce risks and impacts (death, injury, property damage) from natural and technological disasters, including climate change. These mitigation strategies include infrastructure improvements to critical facilities, public outreach/education, and ongoing planning initiatives.
  • Regional Mitigation Collaboration: Regional groups (five) coordinate planning efforts to addresses climate change while developing regional mitigation strategies—combining planning efforts to protect life, property and promote a sustainable economy.
Response Planning
  • Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP): Identifies responsibilities for mitigating, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters. The CEMP is the basis for how the Emergency Operations Center operates during an activation.
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)
  • 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)
  • 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.
Pierce County owns and manages 55 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 stormwater and higher energy costs to deal with increased air conditioning and managing indoor air quality during wildfire events.
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 the County's reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Countywide facilities planning, design and operational support of the Department of Emergency Management's incident needs are integral to climate change resiliency.
Early Action
(0–3 Years)
  • Pursue climate risks and resilience opportunities in the review of all property acquisitions (e.g. cooling stations).
  • Partner with Parks & Recreation and Emergency Management departments to create an extreme heat plan for at-risk community members. Coordinate to strategically locate facilities and parks that can work as local cooling centers.
  • Coordinate with Parks & Recreation and Planning & Public Works departments to develop best practices that limit forest fire potential at owned properties. Consider hiring a county forester dedicated to planning and coordination to ensure effective execution. 
  • Create an extreme heat plan to protect outdoor workers during extreme heat events over 90°F. Coordinate between Facilities, Human Resources, Risk Management, Parks and Planning & Public Works.
  • Coordinate between Facilities and Planning & Public Works to evaluate and upgrade stormwater management systems to manage the expected increase in precipitation. Regularly reevaluate systems to determine whether stormwater runoff will negatively affect Pierce County properties and constituents. Review all new property acquisitions with this concern in mind.
Long Term Action
(4–10 Years)
  • Locate new facilities in areas with clear routes to escape from flooding.
  • Reduce increases in capital and operational costs associated with unplanned replacements by planning for more extreme heat events and higher average temperatures. Design facilities to accommodate hotter weather and significantly lower air quality (e.g. wildfire smoke). 
Parks & Recreation

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. 

Parks and Recreation

Sea Level Rise
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.

Increased precipitation during the winter months and lower precipitation during the summer are anticipated to put a strain on existing natural resources and infrastructure. Increased stormwater runoff may cause flooding in adjacent waterbodies and overwhelm existing Parks stormwater infrastructure. Parks grass sports fields will likely be damaged in the wet winter months and require more irrigation in the drier summer months; making grass fields costlier to own and operate.  Additionally, continued drought stress may cause a decline in existing trees and vegetation.

Ocean Acidity
Ocean acidification is altering aquatic ecosystems; as seawater becomes acidified it corrodes shellfish and impacts the shell-fish industry.  Although Parks does not manage for shell fishing, this impacts as Purdy Sand Spit contains some aquaculture land that could be devalued by ocean acidification.

Water Temperature
As local water bodies heat-up, more lakes are expected to be closed because of toxic algae blooms.  This directly reduces swimming and recreational opportunities as Lake Tapps and Spanaway Lake could expect more days where the lakes are not open to the public.

Steep slopes, reduced tree and vegetation cover, and heavy rainfall events can lead to increased landslides. Most of the steep sloped park-lands are not accessible or maintained for public use, such as the Carbon River Valley properties; however, properties such as Chambers Creek Canyon and Swan Creek are publicly accessible park-lands with steep slopes susceptible to landslides.

Wildfire & Extreme Heat
With increased temperatures comes an increased wildfire potential in our natural areas, as well as extreme heat which can be dangerous to Pierce County residents without air conditioning.

Flooding & Sediment
With the increase in impermeable surfaces associated with development and increased precipitation during the winter months, and sedimentation, there is an anticipated increase in flooding.

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.  
Planning & Public Works

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.
  • The 2015 update to Pierce County's stormwater standards incorporated Low Impact Development principles for controlling runoff. These principles and technologies move away from traditional stormwater facilities and rely more on the land's natural ability to absorb rainfall. This slows the rate of runoff into streams and increases infiltration into the ground.
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.
  • The County continues to look for ways to further incorporate Low Impact Development principles and Best Management Practices into our projects and procedures and currently has a code update working through the adoption process.
Roads & Bridges
Planning & Public Works
Roads & Bridges
The Maintenance and Operations Division (M&O) 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 M&O 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 M&O can ensure safe, reliable transportation to the public. Without proactive steps to anticipate potential changes and respond to them, the ability of M&O 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 M&O 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.

The majority of the roads and bridges that will likely be impacted are located in the Key Peninsula area of unincorporated Pierce County. Other roads impacted are located on Browns Point and Anderson Island.

There are also eight County owned boat ramps that will be impacted and could be rendered unusable if sea levels were to rise two feet or more.
  • Beach Drive NE
  • Glen Cove Road NW
  • Whitman Street NE
  • Villa Beach Drive AI
  • Northshore FI
  • Hall Road NW
  • Fox Island Bridge Road NW
  • Berg Drive NW
  • Longbranch Wharf Road SW
  • Cromwell Drive
  • North Herron Road NW
  • Randall Drive NW

  • Horsehead Bay Drive NW
  • 13th Avenue FI
  • 89th Avenue NW
  • Rosedale Street NW
  • 86th Avenue NW
  • 37th Street NW
  • 67th Avenue NW
  • A Street NW
  • Lorenz Road
  • 72nd Street SW
  • Lakebay Dock Road SW
  • Wanida Avenue NE
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. 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.

  • South Prairie Road East
  • South Prairie Carbon River Rd E
  • Neadham Road
  • Lower Burnett Road East
  • Mathias Road East
  • Clay City Road East
  • 208th Street East
  • 108th Avenue SW
  • 84th Street NW
  • Edgemere Drive SW
  • Cemetary Road
  • 336th Street East
  • Pioneer Way East
  • Shaw Road
  • 65th Avenue East
  • 177th Street East
  • Kapowsin Hwy E
  • Tisch Road South
  • McCutcheon Road
  • 264th Street East
  • 336th Street East
  • 216th Street East
  • Sumner Buckley Hwy
  • Leach Road
  • 150th Avenue East
  • 176th Street East
  • Brooks Road
  • Military Road East
  • Lake Louise Drive SW
  • Avondale Road SW
  • 159th Avenue East
  • Gay Road
  • 89th Avenue Ct East
  • 93rd Street East
  • Jansky Road
  • 158th Avenue East
  • Eustis Hunt Road
  • Kelly Lake Road East
  • Seattle Avenue SW
  • Crescent Valley NW
  • 139th Street East
  • 86th Avenue NW
  • 108th Street SW
  • McChord Drive SW
  • Ainsworth Avenue East
  • Fairfax Forest Reserve Road
  • Mahncke Road SW
  • Waller Road
  • Woodland Avenue East
  • Ohop Extension Road
  • Ohop Road East
  • 159th Street East
Current Efforts
M&O 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. M&O also uses 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 goal.

M&O 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 M&O respond to emergency events in a timely and effective manner so that roadways are kept safe and open. M&O 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 responsibilities
  • Secure 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 set realistic expectations for levels of service
Solid Waste System
Planning & Public Works
Solid Waste System
Pierce County, the City of Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) work together to provide solid waste service to Pierce County's 820,000+ residents. Tacoma's system serves Tacoma and Ruston. The Town of Ruston has its own collection system but has an agreement with Tacoma for disposal through the Tacoma management system. Pierce County's system serves everyone else, except for JBLM and the Pierce County portions of Auburn and Pacific (which are served by King County).
Solid Waste
Pierce County’s solid waste system is likely to be impacted by climate change in a number of different ways. More strong storms and flooding will likely result in more tonnages of storm debris going to the landfill. Stronger rain events will lead to the added expense of treating more landfill leachate. More rain will also likely increase the amount of yard waste compost our facilities receive and may be the impetus for an expansion of compost facilities. Over time people may reduce their waste based on improved environmental education and improved sustainable packaging.
Current Efforts
  • Debris Management Plan
Early Action
(0–3 Years)
  • Consider differences in waste stream sectors since 2015
  • Plan for protecting facilities from threat of forest fires
  • Landslide plan update
Long Term Action
(4–10 Years)
  • Consider long-term impacts to solid waste system
  • Work with DEM and SWM to minimize flood waste sent to landfill
Surface Water Management & Salmon Recovery
Planning & Public Works
Surface Water Management & Salmon Recovery
Surface Water Management (SWM) is a utility with broad-ranging responsibilities from flood risk management, water quality compliance, shellfish protection, salmon recovery and property management.
Surface Water Management
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.

Sea Level Rise
The moderate estimate from NOAA is that Puget Sound sea level could rise by up to 57 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.

Flooding & Precipitation
The risk of flooding is expected to increase with the anticipated increase in heavy precipitation events. Atmospheric rivers are the source of all major river flooding in the county and are expected to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration. This could have major impacts on managing flood risk. The size of facilities would need to be modified or relocated to maintain current levels of service.  Increase flow and sediment will lead to more channel migration and degradation issues. Major flooding may pressure agriculture to move out of the floodplain, and SWM would see an increase in the demand for property acquisitions. Increases in rainfall would lead to more road closures as stormwater conveyance systems are overwhelmed. Undersized stormwater conveyance systems can also be a barrier to fish migration. This will also increase the potential for groundwater flooding, increased septic system failures, and the demand for SWM to mitigate for these changes. SWM has constructed multiple setback levee projects and has identified several additional potential locations for setback levees.

Ocean Acidity
Ocean acidity is expected to continue to increase in the Puget Sound. SWM is part of Clean Water Partners, a partnership organization formed in 2006 between Pierce County, Pierce Conservation District, and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. SWM and Clean Water Partners will work to prevent shellfish bed closures due to poor water quality and help ensure that shellfish harvested is safe to eat.

Mountain Glaciers
Glaciers are expected to continue to shrink due to warmer temperatures in the Puget Sound watersheds. Severe low flows in the summer could impact the salmon runs in rivers and streams. With glaciers receding, there will be more loose material exposed in the upper basin for rapid erosion causing greater sediment loads in rivers. Additionally, glaciers help to hold snowpack in the mountains, often acting as a sponge. With less glaciers, there is the potential for higher flows throughout the river system.

Water Temperature
Pierce County will likely see more invasive species in streams, ponds and lakes throughout the county. The county is also likely to see an increase in toxic algae in lakes. Higher temperatures could impact the quality of near shore habitat, shellfish growing areas and increase the likelihood of vectors like the West Nile virus. Surface Water Management has historically taken the lead of managing response to West Nile virus. SWM currently has staff monitoring and inspecting water quality best management practices (BMP’s) for parameters such as temperature, nutrients, and toxicology. It is likely these obligations would increase and there would be a need to create a lakes management program.

Increases in precipitation and duration will lead to more winter landslides. This will be exacerbated where wildfires have caused a loss of land cover. Landslides can cause increase sedimentation loads in river systems leading to greater risk of channel migration. Marine bluff landslides can lead to loss of eel grass habitat and near shore fish habitat degradation. Landslides can also damage built stormwater infrastructure.

Wildfire & Extreme Heat
Increased cost to maintain plantings during the first years of establishment with higher than average summer temperatures. Where wildfires occur there will be increased runoff and risk of flooding and sedimentation.

Sediment loads in the Puget Sound rivers are expected to increase, as declining snowpack and glacial recession expose more unconsolidated soils to severe weather. Increased sediment in our rivers systems decreases the flood carrying capacity and increases risk of channel migration. SWM may have to create a sediment management program to manage the amount of sediment coming down the mountain and into the rivers and streams. Our current plans call for building more setback levees which helps capture sediment loads. In order to respond to a rapidly changing risk, the length or number of planned setback levees may have to be increased.  Alternative methods for sediment management or setback levee construction would require additional staff support and funding to address this issue. Increase sediment can have a negative impact on salmon productivity.

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 locations
  • 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.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
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. 
Wastewater Treatment Plant
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, and companion rise in nutrient level, wastewater discharge permit requirements may become more stringent. Rising sea levels, coupled with extreme high tides, could increase salt water infiltration into sewer infrastructure located within intertidal and submerged marine environments.

Examples include:
  • The Day Island/Marina infrastructure
  • Some residential grinder pump stations located in the Browns Point system 
  • The Dash Point stormwater pump station
  • Potential impacts to the flow capacity coming into and going out of the Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant  
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. 

Sewer infrastructure may also be affected by landslide hazards. The stability of slopes adjacent to the Etloh large onsite sewage system, located on Fox Island, has been an issue in the past and has the potential to slide in the future. The Wa Ta Gua sewer pump station, located in the Browns point area, is also built on a slope that could be vulnerable to landslides. Sewer infrastructure and operations are not likely to be significantly affected by increased fire danger or drought. 
Climate change will have a significant effect on the wastewater treatment plant but we are well prepared for population growth and the 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