Flood Plan FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the 2023 Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan?

Flooding impacts our community in many ways, affecting our agriculture, residential, commercial, and industrial lands. The 2023 Pierce County Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan outlines how Pierce County—in collaboration with local jurisdictions—will create a resilient community by addressing and managing flooding and channel migration hazards over the next 10 years. 

The 2023 Flood Plan is a countywide effort to address areas experiencing riverine, coastal, urban, and groundwater flooding. These areas include the nine watersheds of Pierce County, all cities and towns, the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers, their major tributaries and streams and the Puget Sound shoreline.

  Contact

Brynné Walker
Floodplain Management Planner
(253) 798-4671
[email protected]

Sign up for updates

   Join our email list

Why does the 2023 Flood Plan matter?

Even if an area is not affected directly by flooding, disruption caused by flooding’s effects on transportation and other infrastructure is often widespread. The 2023 Flood Plan will identify projects and policies that are financially and physically achievable within the next ten years. In addition to advancing priority projects identified in the 2013 Flood Plan, the 2023 Flood Plan will identify studies needed to inform future capital projects in the 2033 Flood Plan. 

The plan identifies policies, programs and projects that support the creation of resilient communities by:

  • Reducing the impacts to the community from major flooding events.
  • Reducing damage to critical infrastructure.*
  • Reducing ongoing maintenance costs.
  • Improving natural habitat while protecting and maintaining the regional economy.

* Critical infrastructure examples include roads of all types, highways, bridges, solid waste facilities, ferry landings, assisted living facilities, schools, hospitals, etc.

What is the difference between the 2013 Flood Plan and the 2023 Flood Plan?

2013 Flood Plan2023 Flood Plan
Riverine flood hazards onlyRiverine, coastal, urban and groundwater flood hazards
20-year planning horizon10-year planning horizon
Financially Unconstrained

Constrained to what is financially and physically achievable within 10 years by including a rate study

Conducted studies only relevant to the 2013 plan

Identify additional studies needed for 2033 plan


The 2023 Flood Plan takes a new approach to updating the County’s current flood plan. It:

  • Addresses the entire county, including the cities (the last plan focused on unincorporated Pierce County).
  • Includes three additional flood hazards: coastal, urban, and groundwater.
  • Covers a 10-year timeframe (previous plans spanned 20 years).
  • Identifies efforts that are financially and physically achievable within ten years;
  • Identifies studies needed to inform future capital projects in the 2033 plan.
  • Adopts a “pathways approach” to adaptive management.

What is a pathways approach?

A pathways approach identifies the decisions that need to be made now and those that may be made in the future. The approach is intended to provide flexibility, keep options open, and allow for adaptation in response to changing circumstances over time.

The strategic portion of the 2023 Flood Plan proposes a long-term framework to improve conditions. This pathways approach acknowledges that Pierce County, other partners, and the community can plan for, prioritize, and prepare for future decision making. Rather than determining a final outcome or decision at an early stage, decision makers build a strategy that follows changing circumstances over time. The approach acknowledges that while not all decisions can be made now, they can be planned, prioritized, and prepared for. This allows for flexibility over time, especially when dealing with uncertainty that may be associated with project funding, schedules, or climate change.

The various pathway exhibits allow you to see the pathways approach in action. These pathways were developed based on input from stakeholder workshops and may be refined in the future as conditions change.

Pathways for each flood type

The 2023 Flood Plan Pathways prepared for urban, coastal, and groundwater flood hazards illustrate actions Pierce County, in coordination with cities, intends to take over the plan’s 10-year implementation time frame.

Potential near-term actions to address flood hazards:

UrbanCoastalGroundwaterRiverine

Create roadside/driveway culvert replacement program

Develop urban flood hazard working group in partnership with cities

Map, analyze, and monitor urban flood events

Review and revise building codes for septic retrofits

Establish coastal flood hazard working group in partnership with cities

Map, analyze and monitor coastal flood events

Facilitate assistance program for flood mitigation

Establish a coastal “raise in place” mitigation program

Conduct inventory of infrastructure potentially affected by coastal flooding

Establish groundwater flood hazard working group in partnership with cities

Map, analyze and monitor groundwater flood events

Continue educational and outreach efforts specific to groundwater flood hazards

Create and install informational and educational signage in areas affected by groundwater flooding
While there is no pathways diagram for riverine flooding, you will see a number of programmatic recommendations that are riverine-specific.


Stakeholder Engagement and the Pathways Approach

After a series of meetings with several stakeholders, Pierce County developed a series of pathways that identify near-term actions to inform the development of targeted projects and long-term actions to address urban, coastal and groundwater flood hazards throughout unincorporated Pierce County.

From these actions, further study could identify specific projects. To advance these actions, flood hazard working groups (composed of Pierce County, cities and other interested stakeholders) would meet regularly to analyze past flood events, propose solutions, and monitor outcomes for each flood type.

Several cities also developed their own lists of flood hazards and potential solutions.

How have stakeholders and the public helped to shape the 2023 Flood Plan?

A Stakeholder Advisory Group—comprised of representatives from Pierce County cities, various county departments, tribal governments, state and federal agencies, business owners and operators, environmental and agricultural interests, floodplain residents within the planning area—provided input on the 2023 Flood Plan’s goals, objectives, and guiding principles. They also contributed data, projects, other relevant information, and in-depth reviews the draft 2023 Flood Plan as it was developed.

A Steering Committee of internal Pierce County leadership representing various departments provided input and advice on the development of the draft 2023 Flood Plan at key decision points.

Throughout the planning process, various stakeholders gathered to discuss and provide input on various topics in the 2023 Flood Plan. Meeting online as “Disappearing Task Groups” (DTG) participants provided valuable expertise without having to commit to a long-lasting committee. DTGs met on the following topics:

  • Problem/Project Ranking Criteria
  • Urban Flooding
  • Coastal Flooding
  • Groundwater Flooding
  • Cities Programmatic Recommendations
  • Tribal Interests

Community members provided input during the scoping period. They were also invited to describe and submit photos of areas where flooding occurs in their community.

How is flooding defined?

Not everyone defines flooding the same way. Some people define flooding as their fields getting wet. Others define flooding as water inside their homes or if their entire community is under water.

Floodplain managers define flooding as any water that flows over the ground. Flood waters can come from a river, stream, from the ground, tides, wave action, storm drains, or excess rainfall.

Pierce County collected stories from residents who live and work here about their flooding experiences. Some have had their homes threatened by flood waters. Others have searched flooded areas or helped residents put their lives back together after a flood.

How does Pierce County 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.
  • The community recovers quickly—in months rather than years—from the flooding event.

Is this a required plan?

Yes. This 2023 Flood Plan is being developed to meet a variety of state, federal, and county requirements. The 2023 Flood Plan is also a requirement of the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS) program. The County will update its flood plan every five years to maintain its status as a Class 2 community, which grants Pierce County residents a 40% reduction in flood insurance costs.

Who is developing the 2023 Flood Plan?

Pierce County Planning and Public Works – Surface Water Management (SWM) delivers excellent services that reduce flood damage and protect and improve water quality and natural resources for the benefit of our communities. The Pierce County Council created the SWM utility in 1988 to achieve two main objectives 1) to reduce polluted runoff flowing into streams, rivers, lakes and Puget Sound, and, 2) to reduce flood damage to people and property in unincorporated Pierce County. SWM is funded by a dedicated utility service charge paid by unincorporated county property owners. Annually, the service charge generates about $22.2 million. SWM also pursues state and federal grants to fund capital projects and to improve water quality and salmon habitat. To learn more, visit: PierceCountyWa.org/SWMProjects.

What is the Community Rating System?

Standard homeowners and commercial property insurance policies do not cover flood losses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which offers reasonably priced flood insurance to all properties in communities that comply with minimum standards for floodplain management.

The NFIP’s Community Rating System (CRS) credits community efforts beyond those minimum standards by reducing flood insurance premiums for the community’s property owners. The CRS is similar to—but separate from—the private insurance industry’s programs that grade communities on the effectiveness of their fire suppression and building code enforcement efforts.

The County updates its plan every five years to maintain its status as a Class 2 community, which grants residents of unincorporated Pierce County a 40% reduction in flood insurance costs. Pierce County is one of only four counties in the nation to be a Class 2 or better, which is shared by our neighbors King and Thurston counties. Every south Puget Sound community that participates in the CRS program currently receives between a 20 to 40% discount on NFIP flood insurance, and all area communities are encouraged to join.

How is this project funded?

The project is funded by fees from the Surface Water Management Service Charge. On your annual property tax statement, this charge is listed as “Surface Water Management.” Learn more in the 2022-2027 Surface Water Management Service Improvement Plan.

How does the EIS relate to the development of the 2023 Flood Plan?

The 2023 Flood Plan will go through a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) 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:

  • Scoping Period: The “scoping” period is 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. Combined Flood Pland and EIS scoping occurred between Dec. 14, 2020, and Jan. 29, 2021.
  • Draft EIS Review: The Draft EIS review period is when comments are requested regarding the merits of alternatives and the adequacy of the environmental analysis. Public hearings are often held during this period.

An environmental impact statement (EIS) has been prepared to evaluate the affected environment, potential impacts and mitigation measures, and any unavoidable significant adverse impacts that would result from Pierce County‘s approval of the proposed 2023 Flood Plan or an alternative to the 2023 Flood Plan.

The SEPA process 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.

How can I provide input and learn more?

Review the Draft 2023 Flood Plan and Draft EIS. Share your thoughts on the proposed policies, programs, and projects and their potential impacts via email, postal mail or using the online questionnaire.

  1. Attend an upcoming open house and share your thoughts by:
    • Speaking with a staff member.
    • Adding comments on sticky notes provided.
    • Completing a comment form.
  2. Dive deep into the Draft 2023 Flood Plan and the Draft EIS and provide written comments to: 
    Email: [email protected] 

    Mail: 
    2023 Flood Plan 
    Attn: Brynné Walker 
    2702 S 42nd St.
    Ste 109 
    Tacoma, WA 98409
  3. Provide comments on the 2023 Flood Plan when it is brought to Pierce County Council for adoption in summer 2023.

Why do we need to do an environmental impact statement?

The state requires agencies to analyze the impacts of any major action that it proposes taking. Adopting a new flood plan is a major action, so we have to look at the possible impacts on the environment of taking that action and compare it to not taking the action, which would be sticking with the old plan.

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 the arrival of European settlers in the 1850s and increased through the late 1800s. Most of this work was to stabilize the course of the rivers using materials that were on hand.

  • Early 1900s: Beginning in 1914, revetments (riverbanks faced with rock) were constructed along the lower White River. 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.
  • 1930s-1940s: In the 1930s and 1940s, riprap 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.
  • 1960s-1980s: 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 were expected to keep river velocities high and keep sediment and wood moving downstream through the system. Unfortunately, sediment deposition occurred 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 they caused environmental and habitat alteration.
  • 1990s: 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 the County’s commitment to rethink its river management strategies.
  • 1998s - Today: 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. 

What are the 2023 Flood Plan’s goals and objectives?

GOALS — Broad Outcomes to Guide Strategies

  1. Support resilient communities, compatible economic activities, and improve habitat conditions in areas prone to flooding/channel migration.
  2. Identify and implement flood hazard management practices in a balanced, cost effective and environmentally conscious manner.
  3. Reduce risks to life and property from river/channel migration, coastal, groundwater and urban flooding.
  4. Address all flooding types in the 2023 Flood Plan in a cost effective and financially achievable manner over a 10-year period.
  5. Support municipalities in their floodplain management practices.

OBJECTIVES — Specific Statements of Action

  1. Evaluate the risks to public safety and existing development from all flood hazards (e.g., critical facilities, infrastructure, and structures).
  2. Examine and prioritize opportunities to reduce risk to life and property, while reducing economic and environmental impacts of flood hazards.
  3. Regulate development in flood-prone and channel migration hazard areas to minimize risks to life, property, and habitat.
  4. Cost-effectively manage riverine flood risk reduction facilities to:
    • Make them less susceptible to future damage,
    • Reduce impacts on habitat, and
    • Ensure consistency with public law (PL) 84-99, and similar federal, tribal, and state laws and programs.
  5. Identify and pursue projects with multiple benefits (e.g., salmon recovery, aquatic and riparian habitat, water quality, open space, public access, and agricultural resources).
  6. Prioritize projects and programs based on the level of risk, benefit, cost effectiveness and effects on habitat over the life of the plan or facility.
  7. Coordinate among Pierce County departments, local governments, and other agencies and Tribes to seek consistency in flood hazard management, development regulations, and flood disaster response and recovery.
  8. Implement an adaptable countywide public education and outreach program to improve flood awareness and provide actions people and communities can take to reduce risk (e.g., flood insurance, flood proofing).
  9. Where feasible, remove or modify existing flood risk reduction facilities, to protect, restore or enhance critical riparian or instream habitat that benefits threatened or endangered species; protect and enhance natural systems that reduce flood risk.
  10. Increase our understanding and incorporate best available science regarding climate change into flood hazard management decision making.
  11. Establish new design and management strategies standards for existing and new flood risk reduction facilities.
  12. Identify repetitive-loss properties and properties needed for future flood risk reduction facilities.
  13. Provide for the participation of stakeholders in the assessment of natural resources management issues, acceptable risks, the evaluation and ranking of alternatives, and the development of plan recommendations.
  14. Identify supplemental funding sources for implementing recommended flood hazard management activities.
  15. Monitor the effectiveness of projects and repairs to learn from successes, develop long-term cost-effective approaches and reduce the need for costly solutions.
  16. Maintain a network of accurate stream flow weather gauges, and water quality stations to inform management decisions.