Flood Plan FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the 2023 plan different from other plans?

The 2023 plan: 

  • Includes coastal, groundwater, urban, and riverine flooding, whereas previous plans only addressed riverine flooding; 
  • Covers a 10-year timeframe, marking a change from past practices of planning on a 20-year horizon; and 
  • Identifies efforts that are financially and physically achievable within the specified timeframe, whereas past plans were often comprehensive but less useful in identifying what could be achieved within the timeframe allotted. 
  • Utilizes a pathways approach to allow for adaptive management and future strategic, flexible and structured decision-making. 
Have other questions?

Reach out to us for answers.

Brynne Walker 
Floodplain Management Planner [email protected]

What is Pathways?

As defined by National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility:

"A pathways approach to adaptation planning is about keeping options open and so avoiding path dependency and lock-in. It provides structure and guidance to help incorporate flexibility into adaptation planning. It can reduce unnecessary expenditure, preventing organizations from being locked into actions that may not be the best solutions for what is a long-term problem. Under the approach, rather than determining a final outcome or decision at an early stage, decision makers are able to build a strategy that will follow changing circumstances over time. The approach acknowledges that while not all decisions can be made now, they can be planned, prioritized and prepared for. It is a useful approach for dealing with uncertainty, especially in cases where the uncertainty may reduce over time, for example with improvements in estimates of future local sea-level rise."

Learn more about the Pathways Approach 

Which parts of Pierce County are affected by flooding and the 2023 plan?

The 2023 Flood Hazard Management Plan is a countywide effort to address areas experiencing coastal, groundwater, urban, or riverine flooding. Even if an area is not affected directly by flooding, disruption caused by flooding’s effects on transportation and other infrastructure if often widespread.

Is this a required plan?

  • Yes. The plan will be developed to meet the requirements of WAC 173-145 related to Comprehensive Flood Control Management Plans, RCW 86.12 Revised Code of Washington Flood Control by Counties, 44 CFR Code of Federal Regulations related to the National Flood Insurance Program, and the PCC 19A Comprehensive Plan.
  • This plan is also a requirement of the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS) program. The County updates their plan every five years to maintain its status as a Class 2 community, which grants residents of Pierce County a 40% reduction in flood insurance costs.

How will stakeholders and the public help shape the plan?

  • A Stakeholder Advisory Group will provide input on and review the plan’s goals, objectives, and guiding principles; contribute data, projects, and other relevant information; and review the draft plan. These meetings will be open to the public.
  • Community members will also be invited to provide input at a series of public meetings to discuss and review elements of the plan in which they are most interested. 

How does the EIS relate to the development plan?

The Flood Plan will go through a non-project environmental review process with opportunities for public input. Non-project environmental impact statements (EIS) are prepared for planning decisions that provide the basis for later project review. Non-project actions include the adoption of plans, policies, programs, or regulations that contain standards controlling the use of the environment or that will regulate a series of connected actions. There are two periods for public input:   

  • The “scoping” period where the public, tribal governments, and local, state, and federal agencies are invited to comment on the range of alternatives, areas of impact, and possible mitigation measures the EIS should evaluate. Public scoping meetings may be held during this period.
  • The draft EIS review period, where comments are requested regarding the merits of alternatives and the adequacy of the environmental analysis. Public hearings are often held during this period.

The Flood Plan will go through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) environmental review process with opportunities for public input. An environmental impact statement (EIS) will be prepared to evaluate the affected environment, impacts, mitigation measures, and unavoidable significant adverse impacts that would result from Pierce County‘s approval of the proposed Pierce County Rivers Flood Hazard Management Plan (Flood Plan) or an alternative to the Flood Plan. 

SEPA is intended to provide information to agencies, applicants, and the public to encourage the development of environmentally sound proposals. The environmental review process involves the identification and evaluation of probable environmental impacts, and the development of mitigation measures that will reduce adverse environmental impacts. This environmental information, along with other considerations, is used by agency decision-makers to decide whether to approve a proposal, approve it with conditions, or deny the proposal. SEPA applies to actions made at all levels of government within Washington State.

Opportunities for public input during the development of the EIS include scoping and the draft EIS. Please continue to check back for upcoming opportunities for your input.

Please fill out a contact form so you can be updated about this project.

How has the County’s approach to flood control evolved over time?

Early records indicate that basic flood protection work in Pierce County, particularly with the Puyallup River basin, began with arrival of European settlers in the 1850s, increasing by the late 1800s.  Most of this work was to stabilize the course of the rivers using materials that were on hand.  

Beginning in 1914 revetments (river banks faced with rock) were constructed along the lower White River and levees were constructed along the lower Puyallup River with brush mats and cement panels to protect developed  areas of Puyallup and Tacoma from flooding and channel migration.  

In the 1930s and 1940s, rip rapped levees and revetments were constructed to prevent migration of river channels through agricultural lands in the middle and upper Puyallup. These levees and revetments were constructed low with the intent to provide a consistent channel but allow the river to overtop and provide nutrient rich sediment. The approach to river management changed in the 1960s.  

In the early 1960s, Washington State made substantial money available for new construction of levees for flood control.  The Corps of Engineers encouraged narrowing and straightening of the rivers to keep sediment and debris moving though the system.  Extensive portions of the middle and upper Puyallup River and Carbon River were straightened and confined with levees and revetments, decreasing channel width to an average of 250 feet.  Levees and revetments were designed to prevent sediment sources on ravine hillsides (feeder bluffs) from entering the mainstem channels, thereby decreasing bedload and increasing transport capacity through the system.  The narrowing and straightening of the channels was expected to keep river velocities high and keep sediment and wood moving downstream through the system.  Unfortunately, sediment deposition did occur in low-gradient reaches, leading to a heavy focus on gravel removal from within the rivers from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s.  In some instances, river management through gravel removal efforts were marginally successful in controlling erosion and flooding, but they incurred high costs for channel maintenance and flood damage repair, and caused environmental and habitat alteration.  

In 1991, Pierce County Council adopted the 1991 Puyallup River Basin Comprehensive Flood Control Management Plan as its policy and capital improvement plan for the Puyallup River.  That plan recognized many of the problems associated with traditional approaches to flood control as practiced from the 1960s through the 1980s.  The plan expressed the County’s preference for non-structural measures to reduce future risks, including substantial regulation of floodplain development, public education and outreach, flood warning, flood proofing of existing structures, and acquisition of properties highly susceptible to repetitive flooding.  The plan also included structural projects, including levees and revetments, ring levees, setback levees and channel widening, and in-channel measures including gravel and debris removal, vegetation management and streambank protection.  Significant floods in the 1990s, including the large 1996 flood, forced a serious re-thinking of river confinement. This cemented our commitment to rethink our river management strategies. 

In 1998, Pierce County completed its first levee setback project on the right bank of the Puyallup River. The setting back of the levees to allow the river more room to naturally move became a strategy adopted in the 2013 Pierce County Rivers Flood Hazard Management Plan.  Today Pierce County keeps a multi-pronged approach to flood control mixing construction projects, restoration projects, policies, and real-estate buyouts to reduce flood risk in the floodplain.

How does Pierce County’s define a resilient community?

The following outcomes characterize resilience in the face of flooding:

  • Public infrastructure is unimpacted by a flood, allowing the community to return to work the following day;
  • The community makes an economic recovery;
  • There is minimal impact to Health and safety; and
  • The community recovers quickly—in months rather than years—from the flooding event.