Washington Waters Task Force Hearing

Washington Waters Task Force Co-Chair, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, makes a quip during Friday's hearing in Olympia.

The Legislature has approved a bill to create an office focused on reducing flood risks and restoring aquatic species in the Chehalis River Basin. 

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, proposed the bill, and the House agreed to Senate amendments on Tuesday. 

It was delivered to the governor on Thursday.

DeBolt told The Chronicle that while the bill creating the Office of the Chehalis Basin may not seem like a big deal, it is to him.

The office will be under the state Department of Ecology, which Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority member Ron Averill thinks is a good thing.

“I do think it’s good to tie the projects to an agency within government to give it some structure,” Averill said.

J. Vander Stoep, a member of the Work Group, said it’s not clear how the bill will affect the group, but he thinks that over time the role of the group will be folded into the board. 

He thinks that putting a state office in charge is a positive step and creates a responsibility to get work done with flood damage reduction and restoring species. 

The bill also creates a treasury account, and the office will be modeled after the Office of Columbia River created in 2006.

Lewis County Commissioner and Flood Authority member Edna Fund said she is excited about the bill, especially after talking to those involved with the Columbia River office. 

She said the language in the bill is very specific, stating that the purpose of the office is to “aggressively pursue” a strategy to reduce flood damage and restore species.

Senate amendments adopted last week include that the office must be funded from appropriations for basin-related flood hazard reduction and habitat recovery activities. 

The Senate also amended the bill to create the Chehalis Board to be made up of seven voting members. Four must be appointed by the governor and must include one member of the Chehalis Indian Tribe and one from the Quinault Indian Nation. The other three members must be chosen by the Flood Authority. 

Averill said the original bill didn’t provide the Flood Authority much of a role, but the three appointments give the group more say and oversight.

Five state officials will serve as nonvoting members, including the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the executive director of the Conservation Commissioner, the secretary of the Department of Transportation, the director of Ecology and the commissioner of Public Lands.

The board will oversee the strategy that results from the programmatic environmental impact statement for the basin and will develop budget recommendations for the governor. 

Currently, the Flood Authority works on smaller flood projects and the Work Group handles larger projects.

Funding for projects currently goes through the capital budget and is administered by the state Recreation Conservation Office.

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