The $628 million dam being proposed for the upper Chehalis River doesn’t make sense for local communities. While these communities are facing very real problems, we are taking hold of the wrong end of the stick — proposing to spend a ton of money on a dam that is not going to do much in terms of flood damage reduction and then continuing on with business as usual in an environment where we know our flood risk is increasing. Instead, we need to get started on a bunch of ‘no regret’ actions that will result in less flooding of homes and businesses throughout the basin. That is going to mean a more resilient local economy and it’s going to mean benefits for everybody, as well as fish and wildlife, across the basin.
We all want to find a grand solution. There are solutions out there that are going to make wild fish extinction much less likely and do a better job at flood protection, creating resilient communities for the long term. We can get started right now elevating homes and businesses so they are above flood levels. We can replace undersized culverts with larger ones, to prevent backups and flooding where roads cross streams. And we can allow uninhabited floodplain areas to flood, which slows flood waters heading to settled areas, banks water for summer use, and restores soil for agriculture.
We don’t have 10 years to wait for this dam to be built. We have to keep our eyes on the prize of what we really need for a climate changed future. All of the things that are going to be good for fish are also good for communities and the livelihoods of the people that depend on them. We are inextricably linked and the solutions that work best for everyone are going to be the ones that bring us a better future.