Dr. John Henrickson Commentary: One Voice Chair: End of Levee Project a Turning Point


    As chairman of One Voice, the organization supporting a basin-wide solution to Chehalis River flooding, I believe we may look back on the July 21 meeting of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority as the positive turning point in the journey to end catastrophic flooding of the Chehalis River.

    At that meeting, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it is ending work on the Twin Cities Levee Project. That flawed plan has been the Army Corps’ focus for 30 years. The design was to build 11 miles of new levees to protect Interstate 5. That design would have held more water upstream of Chehalis and sent more water downstream faster into southern Thurston and Grays Harbor counties. It also had literal holes at Salzer Creek, China Creek and Skookumchuck River, and risked increased flood damage in Bucoda, Centralia and on the Miracle Mile. 

    At the same meeting the Flood Authority, with new effective leadership, acted decisively in gathering the remaining data needed to determine whether water retention can protect the entire basin.

    Changing the scope of study from the Corps’ levee plan that won’t work toward upper basin retention that holds promise of a basin-wide solution is like having a small black and white television replaced by a color, wide-screen, high definition set.

    At its last meeting, the Flood Authority members heard not only the end of the Twin Cities Levee Project, but also a clear message from the Governor’s Office to show progress on flood protection.  Keith Phillips, the governor’s representative, could not have been clearer in communicating the expectation that the Authority produce results.  

    The Flood Authority members responded by taking action.  

    In a series of votes, the Authority members approved the studies necessary to further determination of the technical, economic and ecological feasibility of water retention as the means to reduce flood damage in the entire Chehalis River basin.

    Never before had the Authority focused so clearly on a basin-wide solution. Of the 10 members of the Authority, not less than seven voted for each of the measures necessary to investigate water retention.

    For years, One Voice has recognized that Chehalis River flooding cannot be solved by small measures. The problem is simple: too much water in too small a space. The task is finding a way to contain 100,000 acre feet of excess water. No one has suggested a means of doing that other than through a headwaters dam. All other suggested measures simply move water more quickly onto downstream neighbors, or provide insufficient retention. 

    One Voice commends the decisions made at the July 21, 2011, meeting. It has taken a long time to get to this point. It will take more time to get a solution in place. But One Voice continues to work and we are optimistic that, in time, we will get to a solution to the biggest threat to lives and property that faces our families and communities in the Chehalis River basin.

    For ourselves, our children, and the prosperity of our region, let us allow facts and science to determine how we can protect ourselves from the devastating Chehalis River flooding.


Dr. John Henricksen is chairman of the group One Voice and a Lewis County dentist.