A map created by state-hired Watershed Science and Engineering shows the proposed water retention facility near Pe Ell, along with an airport levee — included as part of the Chehalis Basin Strategy — would reduce flooding from the level of the December 2007 flood by between 1 and 4 feet in various parts of the Centralia area.
According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement done by the Department of Ecology, between 1,135 and 1,280 structures would be protected by the dam from a catastrophic flood. In addition, the EIS states the project would protect roughly 13 percent of the City of Centralia’s acreage, which includes many residential areas.
Of those structures, Centralia College, Centralia High School and Washington Elementary School would be among those protected in the event of a catastrophic flood.
Centralia College Vice President of Finance and Administration Steve Ward said he remembers some of the flood water reaching the grounds in 2007, but said none of the buildings on campus were impacted due to measures taken after the 1996 flood.
Still, Ward said every flood presents a new threat.
“Every flood’s a little different,” Ward said. “If the Chehalis (River) is at full capacity and there’s water running off to the hills to the northeast of us, okay, or to the east of us, we will be impacted because the Chehalis can’t absorb it.”
He continued by saying taking steps toward flood damage reduction is “extremely important.”
“If the college gets impacted, that means all of our neighbors are impacted as well,” Ward said. “That means that the community is impacted. We think it’s extremely important to look at what’s happened in the valley in the last 100 years and (find out) what we can do to reduce the impact to people.”
J. Vander Stoep was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to serve on the Chehalis Basin Board in June 2017. He says the proposed water retention facility would temporarily hold 65,000 acre feet of water.
“(That is) about 22-25 percent of all that water I’m describing (from the 2007 flood), would be held, temporarily, in a facility that does not have a permanent reservoir but is a temporary flood storage facility,” Vander Stoep said.
The impact on the flood water levels would also lead to the preservation of businesses like Rose’s Furniture in Centralia.
Rose’s is one of the many businesses among the more than 1,000 structures that would be protected by the proposed water retention facility. According to owner Roger Rose, the 2007 flood forced him to have to rebuild the business from the ground up.
“It ruined everything we had,” he said. “We lost all our merchandise and had to redo the entire store. (We had to) replace all of the insulation on the outside walls, we had to redo everything.”
He added that he knows many businesses in the surrounding areas had to deal with similar challenges.
“The whole Fairway Shopping Center next to us was inundated,” Rose said. “So, there was a lot of this area (impacted) and then a lot of (businesses) downtown too, it affected downtown and several of the branch streets downtown.”
Rose continued by saying he is “pro-dam” and he “probably” wouldn’t be able to make it through another event like the 2007 flood.
“I think that’s the only way you’re going to control the amount of water coming down the rivers,” Rose said.
Lewis County Commissioner and member of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority Edna Fund experienced that damage first-hand. During the flood in 2007, she recalled getting a glimpse at the extent of the flooding from the I-5 freeway.
The National Guard had shut down the on-ramp, but as Fund put it, she and one of her friends were allowed to walk onto the freeway.
“They’d been stopping people, but I think we looked like harmless ladies,” Fund said. “So, we got on and it was just quiet. When you think about 40,000 cars or vehicles a day, at that point had been using I-5 and to have it quiet? You look over to where the outlets were and see water shimmering over there into their stores, then looking further around and you see homes that were dark with the shimmering water in them, (it) still almost brings tears to my eyes.”
She said it was at that time she made the decision that she wanted to work to ensure the community wouldn’t have to go through a similar event again.
“It was just one of those flash points in your life,” Fund said. “Like, I get it, I’ve seen it and I want to do something about it.”
Written comments can be submitted through May 27 online at chehalisbasinstrategy.com/eis/comment-form/ or to SEPA Draft EIS for Chehalis Flood Damage Reduction Project, c/o Anchor QEA, 1201 Third Ave., Suite 2600, Seattle, WA 98101