Climate Change and the Puget Sound: Building the Legal Framework for Adaptation

Catherine O'Neill
Robert L. Glicksman
Yee Huang
William L. Andreen
Robin Kundis Craig
Victor Byers Flatt
William Funk
Dale D. Goble
Alice Kaswan
Robert R. M. Verchick


The scope of climate change impacts is expected to be extraordinary, touching every ecosystem on the planet and affecting human interactions with the natural and built environment. From increased surface and water temperatures to sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events, climate change promises vast and profound alterations to our world. Indeed, scientists predict continued climate change impacts regardless of any present or future mitigation efforts due to the long-lived nature of greenhouse gases emitted over the last century.

The need to adapt to this new future is crucial. Adaptation may take a variety of forms, from implementing certain natural resources management strategies to applying principles of water law to mimic the natural water cycle. The goal of adaptation efforts is to lessen the magnitude of these impacts on humans and the natural environment through proactive and planned actions. The longer we wait to adopt a framework and laws for adapting to climate change, the more costly and painful the process will become.

This publication identifies both foundational principles and specific strategies for climate change adaptation across the Puget Sound Basin. The projected impacts themselves of climate change in the region were well studied in a landmark 2009 report by the state-commissioned Climate Impacts Group. This publication analyzes adaptation options within the existing legal and regulatory framework in Washington. Recognizing the economic and political realities may not lead to new legislation, the recommendations focus on how existing laws can be applied and made more robust to include climate change adaptation.