Puget Sound Series: Shoreline Master Plans Now Required to Address Sea Level Rise

After the passage of HB 1181, updates to the Growth Management Act and new conservation guidelines will go into effect in eight years. But we can act faster.

After years of work, updates to the Growth Management Act, HB 1181, passed this legislative session. While much of the focus of the bill requires local jurisdictions to include climate change in their Growth Management Act comprehensive plans, it also charges the Department of Ecology to update the guidelines for Shoreline Master Plans (SMP), requiring them to address sea level rise.

Most counties and cities around Puget Sound have recently completed their scheduled SMP updates or are in the final stages of doing so. The new guidelines do not apply to this round of plans, but will apply to the next round of required updates in eight years. Audubon Washington will provide recommendations to Ecology as they develop the new guidelines. We hope to be on the scoping team working with the Agency in determining the scope and content of these guidelines, and will provide comments on the draft guidelines during the subsequent public review process. 

Red Knot. Photo: Gail Deterra

The new SMP guidelines are more than mere suggestions; they will have regulatory authority to help shape what future shoreline plans of cities and counties will address. This update is an important opportunity to involve local governments in planning for resilience in a world with rising seas. It mandates action to reduce the impacts of climate change to birds and communities around the Sound.  

One concern regards the timing of the required updates. The longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive it will be to deal with the impacts of sea level rise. Without planning, regulation and action, coastal areas along the Sound’s shores and in our estuary deltas will be squeezed out as waters rise against bulkheads and dikes.  

Audubon Washington and others advocate for counties and cities to not wait to update on the scheduled eight year timeline, but instead to amend their SMPs as soon as possible to address sea level rise. The Department of Ecology has grants to assist local jurisdictions in the study and development of these amendments, and we urge counties such as Skagit, if they are not going to do so in their regular updates, to obtain an Ecology grant and begin the process now to address this critical issue for our shoreline resources and communities. 

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