Thurston County’s Flood Plan Earns High Marks, Saves Dollars

The Thurston County Board of Commissioners in October adopted the Thurston County Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan, which benefits Thurston County’s environment and economy by protecting against flood hazards and lowering insurance premiums.
The Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) helped the County develop the plan and sought opportunities to align its goals, policies, and mitigation initiatives with Sustainable Thurston Goal PS-2: Create a resilient region by improving disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts, as well as by expanding public safety education.

Thurston County developed the plan to follow as closely as feasible flood-planning guidelines in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System (FEMA CRS), which establishes criteria for community activities and programs that go beyond minimum requirements for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

The Community Rating System uses a 1 through 10 scale (Class 1 = best; Class 10 = basic) to rate communities and determine flood insurance premiums. Most communities enter the program at a CRS Class 9 or 8 rating, which entitles policy holders in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) to a 5 or 10 percent discount, respectively, on their flood insurance premiums, according to FEMA. As communities engage in additional flood mitigation activities and reach a higher CRS class, policy holders become eligible for bigger discounts. The takeaway: Solid planning saves money.

In October 2016, Thurston County documented sufficient CRS credit and met minimum prerequisites to achieve a Class 2 rating. There are just six Class 2 or better communities in the nation — including King, Pierce, and Thurston counties.

The Class 2 rating entitles flood insurance policy holders in the FEMA 100-year Special Flood Hazard Areas a 40 percent discount on their premiums and a 10 percent discount applicable to all other flood policies. As of 2016, Thurston County’s enrollment in CRS has resulted in the following flood insurance savings:

  • Total Savings in FEMA SFHA: $132,599
  • Total Savings for all Thurston County: $140,244
  • Average Annual Policy Savings in SFHA: $495

Thurston County’s development regulations and land use codes prohibit new development in areas prone to flooding, so the CRS program principally benefits homeowners and businesses that located in flood-prone areas prior to the county’s current land use codes.

The Thurston County Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan identifies 20 mitigation initiatives that reduce losses and protect public health and safety, infrastructure, the environment, and the economy. The initiatives fall into seven categories:

  1. Emergency Planning, Notification, and Evacuation and Detour Routes: Two initiatives expand efforts to notify and provide instructions to affected populations of imminent threats from catastrophic dam failure or flood events. The projects will plan, design, and construct signs, and identify routes for people to reach safe places.
  2. Infrastructure: Two initiatives will replace, repair, or reconstruct public infrastructure including stream culverts, bridges, and roads. The projects will minimize flood impacts, address public safety, improve transportation mobility, and enhance aquatic habitat.
  3. Flood Hazard Reduction: Two initiatives will develop and formalize programs to prevent future property losses. One will evaluate, prioritize, and fund candidate structures for elevation, relocation, or acquisition. The other consists of an inspection program to monitor and remove excess debris accumulation in stream channels that compound flood problems into public assets or private property.
  4. Natural Functions and Ecosystem Services: Two initiatives protect and restore natural floodplain functions and enhance aquatic and riparian habitat.
  5. Finance, Implementation, and Coordination: Three initiatives will evaluate and implement opportunities to effectively fund the initiatives in this plan, to manage and coordinate the county’s various flood management work programs across all involved departments, and to coordinate with external stakeholders.
  6. Public Education and Awareness: Two initiatives will improve public access to information and engage affected residents and businesses about flood risks, flood prevention, county flood ordinances and regulations, flood insurance, and other resources.
  7. Mapping, Data Collection, and Data Protocols: Seven initiatives support improving the community’s knowledge of how, when, and where flooding occurs. Additional data enhances the county’s ability to accurately forecast the location and extent of high groundwater flooding, understand the impacts of climate change, identify structures at risk, and map hazard areas. These initiatives also establish protocols for documenting historic flood conditions, archiving data and maps, and improving processes to make the data accessible to county staff, community members, and other stakeholders.

Flooding will continue to pose immense challenges for our region, so TRPC’s companion Thurston Climate Adaptation Plan identifies actions to prepare for and adjust to flood hazards exacerbated by rising sea levels, intensifying storms, and other climate impacts [See story, pg. 10]. Together, hazard mitigation and adaptation planning will help make the region more resilient and sustainable.

For more information, visit www.trpc.org/floodplan.

Innovative Engagement Tools Enhancing Region’s Climate Literacy, Resilience

What do a board game, street art, and pop-up library have in common? Climate change, of course.

On the heels of the Sustainable Thurston project, TRPC secured a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a plan with actions to help the region prepare for and adjust to the impacts of climate change. TRPC will seek policymaker approval of the resultant Thurston Climate Adaptation Plan in early 2018, but the work doesn’t end there.
The plan’s first action [A-01] directs TRPC to update the adaptation plan every five years with new climate research, track implementation progress, amend actions where necessary, and enhance the community’s understanding of climate change causes, impacts, and responses. Each of us has a role to play when it comes to climate change, so each of the plan’s 91 actions recommends leads, partners, and a timeframe for implementation.

TRPC is already making good on the plan’s first action in innovative ways.
In October 2017, the Timberland Regional Library, TRPC, City of Olympia, and other partners hosted “Art of Change,” a community event that merged climate literacy, art, science, and policy. Against the backdrop of an ocean acidification mural freshly freshly on downtown’s Puget Sound Estuarium building, Timberland staged a pop-up library during fall 2017 Arts Walk. Patrons signed up for a library card and checked out climate change books, films, and other resources.

Olympia and TRPC hosted an adjacent information station that featured print and online materials related to their climate planning work. Among the materials were TRPC’s climate “Resilience Toolkit” brochure and its adaptation board game — “Resilience Road: A Game of Climate Change & Chance”.

The Resilience Toolkit — also featured on TRPC’s website (trpc.org/resiliencetoolkit) — includes: tips for enhancing household and neighborhood emergency preparedness; data and maps showing climate change impacts at national, regional, and local scales; and, library books, films, and online courses about climate change. The toolkit also links to TRPC’s Thurston Region Hazards Assessment Map — an interactive story map that enables users to view the locations of medical buildings, wells, fire stations, and other important assets and their exposure to floods, landslides, wildfires, and other hazards. 
The Resilience Road board game enables players to explore the climate stressors and actions featured in the adaptation plan. Players attempt to reach “Resilience Ridge” by traveling through Thurston County along “Resilience Road,” drawing adaptation action cards and cooperating to respond to intensifying precipitation, increasing drought, and other “stressor setbacks” along the way.

TRPC presented the board game to other diverse audiences around the Puget Sound region — including to climate scientists and policy practitioners at the 2017 Northwest Climate Conference, in Tacoma, and to inmates at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center, in Aberdeen. The latter event was part of a Sustainability in Prisons Project symposium on climate change. 

TRPC will look for future opportunities to share and play the board game — for example, at neighborhood association, school, and city planning commission meetings. The game is designed to be adaptable, so communities anywhere may play it using their own climate stressors and actions. 

The adaptation plan will help the region achieve several Sustainable Thurston goals, notably: [Goal E-2] Reduce the region’s carbon footprint and protect critical infrastructure in case of extreme weather and sea-level rise; [Goal E-3] Conserve and protect drinking water to meet the region’s daily and long-term needs; and, [Goal E-4] Protect, preserve, and restore streams, wetlands, and shorelines to protect water quality.

Visit www.trpc.org/climate to play the game and read the plan.