Washington will have more information than ever about the threat geologic hazards hold for communities and citizens under a new law signed today by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Requested by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Senate Bill 5088 requires an expansion of LiDAR mapping of geologic hazards and a thorough dissemination of that information. It is the first major public policy initiative created in response to the Oso landslide.
“The SR 530 tragedy last year highlighted the need for this bill, which was requested by the Commissioner of Public Lands,” Gov. Inslee said. “It was a priority recommendation from the Joint SR 530 Landslide Commission I convened along with Snohomish County Executive John Lovick after the landslide in Oso.”
Introduced by Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the bill was passed with a 97-0 vote by the House earlier this month. The Senate approved it 48-0 in February.
“We live in an age in which we have unprecedented access to technologies that can tell us more than we ever imagined about the natural forces that shape our world. The undivided support for this initiative reflects a commitment by all of us in state government to use those tools and apply the best available science to protect property and save lives,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said. “In particular, I would like to thank Senator Pearson for providing the legislative leadership to swiftly get this bill made into law.”
“This bill will help save lives and property from a disaster like we saw in Oso,” said Pearson. “Using the best technology available to identify these dangers before they cause major harm and destruction is smart government and the right thing to do for the people of Washington.”
Home of the Washington Geological Survey, DNR is responsible for surveying and mapping Washington’s geologic hazards. Increasing the database of LiDAR maps of hazards was one of the agency’s top priorities for this legislative session.
“We are excited to be able to expand upon our small existing collection of LiDAR imagery,” State Geologist Dave Norman said. “Washington is a very complex state, geologically. This will allow us to know more about it.”
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 topography of landforms below with pinpoint accuracy.
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. DNR would use that funding to hire 10 new geologists and four employees to provide technical support. DNR’s Division of Geology and Earth Resources is currently staffed with three hazards geologists and two mapping geologists.
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.