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Development of strategies to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to flooding risks

Duwamish River Valley, Washington

Featured image for the project, Development of strategies to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to flooding risks

Figure 1: Duwamish River Valley (Photo credit: Jovelle Tamayo)

South Park is a small neighborhood located south of the City of Seattle and on the west side of the banks of the Duwamish River. Due to the sea level rise and unexpected heavy rainfall events, this neighborhood is facing increased flooding and environmental health risks. The overall goal of this project is to develop strategies that incorporate recommendations backed by community participatory research for prevention, mitigation, and adaptation to the future flooding events and advocating for more engagement from the City of Seattle with regards to development of immediate flood protection and support in the area.


South Seattle’s Duwamish River Valley is a community with disproportionately high environmental health burdens and risks as the community is affected by the ongoing pollution and cleanup plans for Seattle’s lower Duwamish River, a 5.5-mile-long Superfund Site. Residents of South Park are impacted by the Superfund Site, with potential exposures from contact with contaminated sediments on neighborhood beaches, swimming or wading in the river, and from fishing. In addition, the community is constantly exposed to air pollution from varying sources, such as industries, automobiles, and trucks, resulting in 98108 zipcode having the highest air pollution levels compared to all neighborhoods in Seattle. Although South Park community members are exposed to multiple environmental justice concerns and have a high percentage of susceptible or vulnerable populations, they have historically lacked access to, and influence on, decision-makers that shape the future of their communities.

Map of South Park Seattle showing projected sea level rise

Figure 2: Project Sea Level Rise in South Park Seattle area (Data Source:; Map: City of Seattle, County of King, Bureau of Land Management, USGS, EPA).

More recently, South Park faces another threat in the form of flooding from the rising sea levels. Region of South Park is built directly under the delta of the Duwamish River and is the most at-risk neighborhood to flooding as indicated in Figure 2. An assessment of the sea level rise and the associated flood occurrence frequency has been conducted by the City of Seattle, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sea level rise data for King County are available. Additionally, there are projections for sea level rise out to the year 2150, that are available from the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington (Miller et al. 2018).

Though these tools were designed for applications of risk management and planning in Washington state, little has been done to combat immediate and future flooding risks in South Park. The Duwamish River Community  Coalition/Technical Advisory Group, represented by an alliance of community, tribal, environmental, and small business groups, is working to elevate the voices of those impacted by the Duwamish River pollution and other environmental injustices and improve the lives of its community members by increasing awareness of future flood risks and advocating for better “Call to Action” management and response plans.

The Project

During a heavy rainfall event in South Park, there is a risk of backflow of sewage into people’s houses. Therefore, there is a need for more robust plans to be put into place co-developed by community and by the government officials to prevent flooding risks and develop a “in the moment” response to mitigate the risk of backflow of sewage into people’s houses. The current plans proposed by the government officials will not provide the immediate assistance that is needed by the residents. For example, there is a program for backflow installation, yet many families rent their homes. A water pump station is also planned for the future. Other alternatives such as lowering the gates for the water flow are unacceptable as it will allow untreated water to flow to the Duwamish River and will contaminate it further. In addition to the influence on people’s houses, industrial facilities located along the Duwamish River will be heavily impacted by the anticipated sea-level and thus, it is important to include industry partners on development of the flood mitigation plan. Therefore, the overall goal of this project is to increase awareness in the community about flooding risks and build racial equity in the process of developing recommendations for an emergency plan by receiving constant feedback from the diverse members of the Duwamish Valley community and industry partners. The community developed emergency plan will then be recommended to the city and county government officials to prevent and mitigate the impacts of flooding in the South Park community.

Project Objectives/Deliverables:

1)              The community would like help to develop recommendations for a “Call to action” emergency management and response plans for flood prevention and adaptation, without contaminating the Duwamish River, and gain a better understanding of how to mitigate the immediate risks associated with flooding and improve their quality of life and real time needs in times of high precipitation.

2)              Develop community participatory flood vulnerability mapping activity with an overlay of wastewater management facility to create awareness for the residents regarding the future of flooding in their community and the associated health risks.

3)              Spread awareness about the impacts of flooding in the community through public engagement and outreach campaigns.

Project Team

Community Leads and DRCC Staff

Headshot of Paulina Lopez

Paulina Lopez

Paulina has over 25 years of experience working on issues of civil rights, social environmental justice, equity, education and diversity. Paulina is keenly in tune with the strengths and challenges of this community as it moves toward environmental health and social and climate justice. Paulina highly regarded organizer, facilitator, community and policy strategist, movement builder focused on building systems of power and shifting power outward to those most impacted by injustice and oppression. Developed consulting with governments, organizations, community and foundations to identify ways to shift power dynamics, and develop frameworks for collaborative co- creating and transformative governance. Through this work and her leadership in social, environmental, and racial justice organizations, Paulina has developed expertise in multi-sector stakeholder engagement, networks, collaborative problem solving, and building power with BIPOC communities of color, immigrants, and refugees. Paulina emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador and has made Seattle her home for the past 18 years. She first joined DRCC/TAG as a volunteer, advocating in her community for access to a safe, clean environment for South Park’s families. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights Law from St. Thomas University.


Adrienne Hampton

Adrienne Hampton was raised in the Washington, D.C. area along the Potomac River and has lived in the greater Seattle area since 2011. Her passion for advocacy and amplifying the voices of community stems from her grandmother who was involved in community organizing and activism during the civil rights movement in upstate New York. Adrienne holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Washington. Adrienne approaches her work with a sense of shared motivation inspired by ecologically rooted relationships cultivated over the past 12 years. Her most recent career experiences have embraced teachings from the Duwamish River. She has co-created community science programs, supported early career scholars and has fostered movement for successful collaboration across groups. Hampton resolves to work towards employing a cross-cultural understanding of human identity in conjunction with a loving of the land and waters. She is committed to the advancement of climate justice for thriving communities, fair decision-making and the preservation of cultural identities.

Contact info: [email protected]


Community Partners: Anthropocene Alliance

Headshot Sheelah Bearfoot

Sheelah Bearfoot

Sheelah Bearfoot is a program manager at Anthropocene Alliance. She graduated with a degree in Genetics and Plant Biology from UC Berkeley in 2016. She’s Chiricahua Apache, and worked at the Native American Health Center in SF for two years as a diabetes educator before starting a master’s in Environmental Health Science at Hopkins, where she continued her focus on Indigenous health disparities.


Community Science Fellow

Headshot of Priyanka Kushwaha

Priyanka Kushwaha

Priyanka Kushwaha is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She got her PhD in Biochemistry from the Florida International University, FL. Her research focuses on investigating plant-microbe interactions that help facilitate plant survival in metal-contaminated mining soils. Additionally, she is interested in understanding the role of soil microbes in plant adaptation strategies that enable plants to grow in nutrient-limited and metal-contaminated soils. She hopes that the gained knowledge from her research could be applied to improve mine-tailings rehabilitation and restoration of arid lands. She is passionate about science communication and outreach.

Scientist Wanted

We are looking for one or more scientists who can help the Duwamish River Valley community to develop strategies for prevention and mitigation of flooding between now and future sea level rise. The scientist will assist the community in: 1) developing community participatory flood vulnerability mapping activity, 2) creating material to spread awareness about flooding impacts via public engagement and outreach campaigns, and 3) developing recommendations for an emergency management plan that can be proposed to city and county government officials. The desired skills for the scientist are listed below.

Desired skills and qualifications:

  • Expertise in sea level rise and flood risk assessment
  • Interest in climate hazard mitigation
  • Multidisciplinary experience in social and environmental science
  • Ability to communicate clearly to people of various backgrounds
  • Experience working with members from various backgrounds
  • Preferably local to Seattle area but not mandatory
  • Bi-lingual or multi-lingual scientist is a plus
  • Ability to attend regular team meetings
  • Experience mentoring or working with youth
  • Open-mindedness to community concerns and knowledge