The Chehalis River has flooded as long as the people can recall. A flood history reprinted in The Chronicle, Dec. 6, 2017, suggests the floods predate our modern records by centuries. Since 1887, 30 plus major flood events have been recorded. I recall the flood of 1975; Randle residents were rescued by helicopter, bridges were damaged, and three inches of muddy debris covered the roads. The Southwest Washington Fairgrounds sump, installed after the 1972 flood, nearly overloaded. Stan Hedwall sat largely underwater.
In 1986, my childhood home in Chehalis was totaled, just two blocks from the the Crossarms factory spill which required a multi-million dollar Superfund cleanup. I was in the Army for the 1990 flood, but in 1991, while attending Centralia College, I kayaked the streets of Centralia. Then the big floods came.
Despite nature’s persistent nudges, we filled wetlands with mini-malls and big-box outlets, elevating convenience while displacing water. Upstream clearcuts led to massive runoff where forests once managed water free-of-charge. We built taller bridges and a dyke system.
Water backed up, over the freeway, into our downtowns, into our homes. We threw mother nature out of the window, and she came back through the door with a pitchfork.
The Chehalis flood authority’s proposed dam promises to hold water upstream when the inevitable happens. This “Sunk Cost Fallacy” suggests the dam will save homes and businesses from future floods. It may save a select few, but at astronomical cost. It certainly won’t stop the Skookumchuck, Newaukum, or even China Creek, from jumping their banks.
The Chehalis River Alliance (CRA) is a coalition of nonprofits, Tribes, and concerned individuals actively seeking ways to build a better future for the Chehalis River Basin and its residents. The CRA stands with the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis and the Quinault Indian Nation in calling for state funding to build a transparent and inclusive process, opening dialogue and collaboration to reimagine what it means to live in a flood zone. Instead of changing the river, the CRA asks us to change the way we live next to it. With over 30 floods since we began counting, I am convinced the CRA is right-minded in this. I am also glad to hear Gov. Jay Inslee is supporting a collective public approach to this matter. It is time to change how we live next to the river, not invest in a “Sunk Cost Fallacy” of quick-fix river controls which will only cause more trouble.
The dam proposal promises significant and unavoidable ecological impacts with no guarantee of regional flood reduction. An improved public process provides opportunity for broad input and consultation with statewide expertise- something all but ignored by the flood authority’s three councilmember-driven Chehalis Basin Strategy. It is time to reduce flood damage by building a community which lives responsively to the Chehalis flood cycles rather than attempting to control them. Homes from Randle and Adna, the Salish Sea’s resident orca population, and the salmon that connect us all, will benefit from this way forward.