WA - Quinault Tribe builds new village site away from rising seas
With winter storms and high tides approaching, the Quinault Indian Nation continues efforts to relocate its seaside villages.
In recent years, the village of Taholah, the largest on the Quinault Indian Reservation on Washington’s Olympic coast, has had to evacuate when waves overtopped the seawall separating it from the Pacific Ocean.
For about a decade, the tribe has been working to move the village of 660 people out of reach of rising seas and tsunamis.
Construction crews installed streets, sidewalks, and underground utilities in the fall of 2023 for a neighborhood of 59 homes about 1 mile inland.
“We went from forest land about three years ago, and now we have a finished product full of street signs and sidewalks and drainages, so it's a really cool sight to see,” said Ryan Hendricks, a Quinault Tribal Council member and former construction manager.
Hendricks lives in the lower portion of Taholah Village, where homes and businesses sit about 6 feet above the average daily high tide. An expanding ocean, fueled by global warming, is gradually pushing sea levels higher, while king tides that come every November, December, and January can quickly push seas much higher for short stretches. So can winter storms.
Satellite images show the top of the seawall that protects Taholah from the surf is now littered with logs tossed there by the ocean.
“A lot of these logs are getting shoved over the seawall by the waves and the high tides, and they're landing in tribal members backyards,” Hendricks said. “And it's a little bit scary.”
In January 2022, much of the lower village had to evacuate from flooding during a stormy high tide. The tribe put elders up at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino in Ocean Shores, about 20 miles south of Taholah.
Taholah is gradually becoming one of the first communities in the country to retreat as a warming climate raises sea levels. But it’s a slow process.
A community building for daycare and senior programs opened in 2022 at the upland site.
Hendricks said the tribe is seeking more federal grants to be able to start building homes.
In 2022, the Biden Administration provided $25 million each to the Quinault Nation and the Alaskan villages of Newtok and Napakiak to help relocate three tribal villages away from rising seas.
The Quinault Nation was turned down for three federal grants in 2023 and is applying for two more grants this year.
Hendricks said he hopes the first Quinault elders can move to the upland Taholah village within the next two years.