File photo by David Rosen
The Alki Beach promenade flooded due to King Tides in 2012. Seattle Public Utilities believes, based on the current path of climate change and global warming, many Seattle shorelines will be underwater by 2050 unless changes are made.

SPU: Rising sea levels could put West Seattle shores underwater by 2050

Seattle city planners, “using conservative scientific assumptions,” believe sea level rise due to climate change will flood portions of our shorelines regularly at high tide by the year 2050.

According to a map published by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) planners in 2013, parts of West Seattle, Harbor Island, South Park and much of the Duwamish shoreline “could be inundated by 2050. The impact on Seattle shorelines depends on factors such as tides and storms, along with actions the City may take to reduce its own contribution to climate change.”

“Climate change is an immediate and critical challenge,” City Councilmember Mike O’Brien wrote in a press release. “We are already seeing impacts in Seattle from extreme events, such as last month’s flooding of some 100 properties along Beach Drive in West Seattle. We need to take bold steps to prepare our city for expected impacts and drastically reduce our contribution to greenhouse gases going forward.”

The map produced by SPU (derived from a 2008 University of Washington Climate Impacts Group report) shows a sliver of West Seattle’s waterline, from Alki down Beach Drive and further south, in dark blue, indicating a potential rise of 44 inches by 2050. Also heavily “blued” are Harbor Island and the shores of the Duwamish River corridor.

Seattle’s City Council is taking notice of climate change’s threat, according to a SPU press release detailing measures city government will take to “reduce their climate footprint.”

Included in those actions is a Seattle commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, guided by a Climate Action Plan.

“Seattle Public Utilities’ sea level rise map suggests we have work to do to ensure Seattle’s utility infrastructure and assets are prepared for climate change,” Councilmember Jean Godden said in a statement. “Seattle is at the forefront of cities doing climate change planning and we intend to stay there. We’re going to make sure – starting now – that climate change impacts join safety and reliability as primary planning considerations for SPU and all city departments.”

“The Climate Action Plan will build on Seattle’s legacy of environmental leadership,” O’Brien said.

City leaders are looking for community input in developing a plan to combat climate change, and will hold public forums over the next two months (Jan. 29, 6-8 p.m., Yesler Community Center; Feb. 6, 6-8 p.m., location TBD; Feb. 12, 6-8 p.m., Bertha Knight Landes Room, Seattle City Hall). There is also an online survey to share your thoughts on the subject, found at

Denis Hayes, co-chair of the Green Ribbon Commission in charge of developing the Climate Action Plan, said in a statement “In absence of meaningful climate action by the federal government, the Mayor instructed the (commission) to continue Seattle’s tradition of climate leadership among the nation’s cities.”

At its most basic, “climate change” is defined as a change in the world’s climate due to a number of factors from solar radiation and plate tectonics to human activity. The focus of the Climate Action Plan is on changes caused by human activity, often referred to as global warming (a rise in average temperatures and ocean levels thought to be caused by deforestation and greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions).

SPU recommends anyone living in flood-prone areas obtain federal flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program, running about $600 per year.

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