A catalog of detailed LiDAR maps of Washington’s geologic hazards is one step closer to reality after the state House voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a bill requested by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.
Senate Bill 5088 requires the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to expand LiDAR mapping of geologic hazards like landslides and fault lines and work with counties, cities and the public to disseminate that information. The measure is the first of three “critical first steps” identified by the Joint SR 530 Landslide Commission convened by Gov. Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick to study emergency response to the disaster.
“The tragedy of last year’s unprecedented natural disasters should have guided all of our focus on the vital government role of ensuring public safety,” said Commissioner Goldmark. “By creating and maintaining a centralized database of precise locations of hazards like deep-seated landslides and fault lines, we can give planners, developers and the public information they need to be protected against the next disaster.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe and was unanimously passed by the Senate in February. House members voted 97-0 to approve the bill Wednesday. It now goes to Gov. Inslee’s desk for final approval.
“I’m very pleased that the House took action on this important bill. It has the potential to help save lives by mapping possible disaster areas,” said Pearson.
Home of the Washington Geological Survey, DNR is responsible for surveying and mapping Washington’s geologic hazards. The department is currently staffed with three hazards geologists and two mapping geologists. LiDAR mapping is one of the agency’s top priorities for this legislative session.
A budget appropriation must be made in order for DNR to implement the program in a meaningful way, according to Commissioner Goldmark. The program is estimated to cost $6.6 million. The operating budget proposed by the House dedicated $4,645,000. The Senate’s proposed operating budget left the program unfunded.
DNR hopes to hire additional geologists and technical experts in order to interpret new LiDAR surveys and prepare maps of hazards that will be accessible to land use planners, emergency managers and the public.
“Unanimous passage of this legislation indicates public safety is a top priority; one I know legislators take seriously. I’m optimistic they will come through and dedicate funding for this important initiative,” Commissioner Goldmark said.
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) uses lasers mounted on aircraft to scope topography by measuring reflected light. Those beams of light penetrate forest canopy, ground cover and human development to allow mappers and scientists to see the landforms below with pinpoint accuracy.
A little more than one-fourth of Washington has already been mapped with LiDAR, though much of that was done with lower-quality imaging. DNR will initially target LiDAR mapping efforts at population centers and infrastructure most at risk from landslides and other hazards.
DNR’s Natural Resource Mission on Behalf of Washingtonians
Under the elected leadership of Commissioner Goldmark, DNR manages more than 5.6 million acres of state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation, and aquatic lands. More than half of these lands are held in trust and produce income to support public schools and other state institutions. Lands managed by DNR also provide outdoor recreation, native fish and wildlife habitat, and clean and abundant water.