The Floodplains by Design partnership hosted a workshop on February 9 to discuss how to advance integrated floodplain management and to share findings from a draft report on Visions and Strategies for Integrated Floodplain Management in Puget Sound.  Approximately 100 representatives of local, state, and federal government, tribes, agriculture, land trusts, and other floodplain stakeholders attended the workshop.

Integrated Vision and Strategies

Jim Kramer, consultant to the Floodplains by Design (FbD) partnership, presented findings from the draft Visions and Strategies report.  Over the last year, the FbD team worked with local floodplain leaders across Puget Sound to articulate what they are trying to accomplish in floodplain management.  Nine watersheds submitted summaries of their processes for advancing basin-scale integrated floodplain management.  While the watershed summaries show a broad range of conditions, strategies, goals, and aspirations across Puget Sound’s floodplains, several overarching themes emerged:

  • Across Puget Sound, there is strong local interest in further integration of floodplain management, taking into account multiple benefits to achieve flood risk reduction, habitat restoration, agriculture, urban needs, recreation and other benefits.
  • Local leaders and partners in many watersheds have significant aspirations for improving the conditions of their floodplains for people and nature as represented by the number of river miles classified in the Significantly Modify and Improve strategies.  Local floodplain leaders hope to make significant changes/improvements to floodplain infrastructure and habitats in reaches encompassing over 40% of the 800 miles of major river floodplains in Puget Sound.
  • Every area that submitted a summary is in some stage of building or sustaining agreement around integrated floodplain goals or a set of tangible actions.  There are strong commitments to advance local integration and agreement for action.
  • However, only a few areas currently have specific agreements on the suites of actions or costs related to achieving their local vision and strategies.
  • More capacity and funding is needed for local and regional processes focused on building reach scale visions, strategies and actions that meaningfully address flooding, habitat restoration and other pressing issues.

A regional vision was crafted based on the locally-developed information that envisions a major transformation of Puget Sound’s floodplains to reduce flood risk and restore habitat at an unprecedented scale.

The Visions and Strategies report describes five strategies to accelerate integrated floodplain management:

  1. Build stakeholder agreement within watersheds for taking integrated, reach-scale action;
  2. Advance regional agreement on integrated vision, goals, and action steps;
  3. Build support for increased investment;
  4. Focus investments and reduce administrative costs and project implementation delays; and
  5. Increase partner effectiveness and adaptively manage the regional FbD partnership.

The FbD partnership will be working at the local and statewide level to implement these strategies over the coming months and years.  A suite of actions to implement the above strategies   were submitted by TNC, ECY and local partners (as near term actions)to become part of the Puget Sound Action Agenda.

Integrating Climate Changes in Floodplain Management

Guillaume Mauger, University of Washington Climate Impacts Group (CIG), and Julie Morse, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), presented information about climate change predictions for Puget Sound and how to integrate climate change information into integrated floodplain planning.  In Puget Sound, we have 20 years of active climate impacts research, much of which is included in CIG’s recent report State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound.  Major climate change impacts related to Puget Sound’s floodplains include changes in flows (higher winter flows and lower summer flows), increased sediment, sea level rise, and increased water temperature in rivers and streams.  A fact sheet summarizing climate impacts on Puget Sound floodplains as well as projections for several individual watershed were distributed at the workshop.  The CIG report and the mores specific fact sheets can be found on the website. There were several key themes to the presentation:

  1. There is a large gap between what we know about climate change impacts and the incorporation of that information into floodplain planning processes. 
  2. To integrate climate change into floodplain planning, it’s necessary to consider how current plans will be resilient to climate change and if adjustments are needed. 
  3. Projects and actions shouldn’t assume that current conditions (such as the extent of the 100-year floodplain) will remain the same into the future. 
  4. Planning shouldn’t be based strictly on what has been observed in the past.  Policies shouldn’t reinforce trends that increase vulnerability or reduce adaptive capacity. 

Small Group Discussions

A portion of the workshop was dedicated to small group discussions on advancing integrated floodplain management and incorporating climate change information.  The participants were very insightful in articulating what is needed for local floodplains leaders to progress in integrated management and to incorporate climate changes.  Below are some highlights from the small group discussions.

Integrated Management:

  • Integration is critical, and it is a challenge.  We are making process but it requires more dedicated attention.  There is a need to increase engagement of local decision-makers and to broaden understanding amongst practitioners, stakeholders and decision-makers that integrated floodplain management is as much a social process as a technical one.
  • It’s critical to recognize the connection between social and ecological systems and to involve landowners.  Landowner outreach and engagement is chronically underfunded.  There’s a lack of concrete information about how to make it happen.  These issues need more money and attention.
  • We need to improve the messaging about integrated floodplain management (what it is and why it’s important?) and get it out.  Good stories need to be shared to inspire the broader involvement of decision-makers and the affected public.  There needs to be better ways to communicate both the risk of no action and the benefits of an integrated approach.
  • We should create a connection between integrated visions for floodplain management and GMA planning.
  • Engagement of the agricultural community at the local level needs to be increased in many areas and strategies need to be enhanced to ensure farms and farmers benefit from integrated floodplain management.
  • We need to include the Corps in discussions to improve permit process.
  • An important way to increase protection of naturally functioning floodplains is to create a flexible pot of funding to acquire critical properties when the opportunity arises.
  • Appreciation was expressed to the FbD Team for convening floodplain leaders to share experiences and advance floodplain management across the state and for recognition of local needs and interests.

Integrating Climate into Floodplain Management:

  • All of the four major changes predicted from climate change are important to local floodplain leaders: flows (high and low), sea level rise, sediment and temperature.  Their importance varies somewhat by location and recent events like last summer’s drought conditions.
  • When considering natural solutions, a number of things are needed:
    • Technical tools/best practices/capacity
    • Updated flood maps
    • Sediment models
    • Economic implications/tradeoffs
    • Building natural solutions into programs and regulations
  • We need site-specific information as regional information can be misleading. For example, not all riverbeds are aggrading because of sedimentation – in some places it flushes out. We need to plug climate scenarios into local hydrologic modeling work.
  • There is an ongoing need for short, digestible, powerful stories and a constant message for stakeholders, decision-makers and affected public.
  • Ecology should be the clearing house for information on the four areas of change from climate.
  • We need to understand how forest practices will affect climate change predictions.
  • Federal and state regulatory programs like flood insurance maps and water rights are based on historical conditions and don’t consider future changes caused by climate.
  • We need to agree to a consistent time scale to plan for climate changes.
  • We need to involve WSDOT and local roads departments in the conversation since they manage many of the bridges and culverts that will be affected.
  • We need additional discussions and information on how to make projects and increase floodplain management resiliency in the face of uncertainties, climate change being one of them. FbD is the appropriate scale and forum at the local and regional level for having the necessary discussions and sharing information.

Updates on Funding and Related Processes

The workshop included updates on related programs, including Ecology’s Floodplains by Design grant program, the Local Integrating Organization Recovery Planning Efforts, and the Floodplain Implementation Strategy.  Mo McBroom, Government Relations Director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), spoke about how TNC is working with legislators this session to build a foundation for the programs we care about, including Floodplains by Design, to be funded in next year’s legislative budget.  TNC is helping to keep the conversation going on the Washington Waters effort, which would develop a large, dedicated funding source to address the needs of our state in regards to floodplains, water supply, and stormwater.

Future FbD Workshops

Jim Kramer said the FbD Team is starting to plan for a future, more in-depth workshop to continue discussions about where we’re going, what changes we need to make, and how we can learn from each other.  Jim asked workshop participants to get in touch with him to discuss thoughts on potential formats, venues, and topics.  


Bob Carey, The Nature Conservancy, acknowledged the challenges of integrated floodplain management and the success that is growing around the region and state.  Integrated floodplain management is difficult.  At the same time it has been exciting to see:  the on the ground results that have already been delivered; the groundwork being laid for increasing the number and impact of integrated  projects; and a growing source of funding.  Bob expressed gratitude to the many involved in the tremendous local planning and project work, and in the advocacy work that is critical to sustaining FbD and other key funding programs.  It is only through our collective efforts that we can reach our ambitious floodplain goals.