The Governor’s Chehalis Basin Work Group, tasked by Gov. Jay Inslee to identify, explore and implement strategies to combat flooding and restore aquatic species in Lewis, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties, has submitted a budget request for the coming biennium to the tune of $60 million.
The money would be used to further explore the possibility of a dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell, one of four alternatives that was supported by all members of the Work Group with the exception of the Chehalis Tribe. Other options would also be studied, and the Work Group has not officially endorsed an option as of yet.
The Work Group is comprised of eight representatives from local agencies and Native American tribes from throughout the Chehalis River Basin, which is the second largest basin in the state behind the Columbia River Basin.
In its budget request, some $30.4 million of state funds would be used to advance long-term strategies for an integrated approach to reducing flood damage and restoring aquatic species habitat. Another $9.6 million in state funds would be used to design and construct local flood damage reduction projects. About $20 million, half of which is federal funds, would be used to construct aquatic species habitat restoration projects.
J. Vander Stoep serves on the Work Group and said he believes the $60 million request this year is enough. He said it marks a $10 million increase over last year, with the $10 million from the federal government requiring congressional approval.
“There’s an opportunity to very significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic flood damage and to enhance the fisheries very dramatically in this basin, and I am very pleased that we are taking the next steps toward those goals,” he said.
The first project that the Work Group will be looking into before a dedicated office known as the Chehalis Basin Board, which is anticipated to be formed this legislative session, will be a dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell.
The Work Group, with the exception of Don Secena, who represents the Chehalis Tribe, recommended the group begin project-level environmental review for the dam, which could either create a permanent reservoir near Pe Ell, or allow water to freely flow until it could be closed during a flood. This review would cost $12.5 million.
The environmental review would determine the feasibility to mitigate the impacts of the dam.
The Quinault Indian Nation opposed the dam when it was presented in an environmental impact statement earlier this year. However, the tribe would not oppose funding in a new study if questions and concerns raised in a letter are explored.
“They’ve been very clear to say they are not endorsing the building of a dam. They are, however, agreeing to support this funding package,” Vander Stoep said. “The way the questions that they raised in response to (the previous study), the way to answer those questions, is through the permitting process.”
These dam studies could analyze hydraulic and hydrologic modeling, geotechnical analyses, impacts to salmon and other aquatic species, cultural resources, wetlands and water quality modeling and monitoring. It would also look at economic costs and benefits.
A draft state environmental policy act permit review for the dam could be completed by 2019.
The Work Group also recommended proceeding with detailed modeling and pre-permit design for one sub-basin to conduct project level environmental review. The goal of this biennium is to identify if there are landowners willing to relocate out of the floodplain and, if so, what environmental restoration processes could take place.
The study would create modeling for the areas in the upper Chehalis watershed above the Newaukum River and the main stem and south fork of the Chehalis River.
Also recommended is the construction of aquatic species habitat restoration projects such as barrier removal, floodplain and channel restoration and reconnecting side-channels as well as acquiring critical habitats.
The budget also recommended continuing studies on salmon and aquatic species in the Chehalis Basin since it has historically been understudied. These projects would cost $20 million combined, with $10 million possibly coming from the federal government.
Floodproofing and land management projects will also be encouraged with local governments. These include protecting structures and residents that sit and reside in floodplains, while discouraging future development in lowlands, similar to what the city of Centralia already does.
In anticipation of more severe effects being brought on by climate change, the Work Group said this investment is necessary.
Investments into local flood projects being undertaken by the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority were also in the budget. The Flood Authority is comprised of local municipalities throughout the basin’s three counties, which implement smaller flood mitigation projects.
These projects include the China Creek flood and habitat mitigation project, the Wynoochee River wastewater treatment plant protection and the Thurston County Independence Road flood study. Some $7.6 million would be directed to the Flood Authority.
An Aberdeen and Hoquiam levee project was in the budget too, and it recommended supporting the next level of design and permit applications to evaluate the environmental impacts and feasibility of a levee along the Chehalis River. The Quinault Indian Nation neither agreed or disagreed with continuing the study. This would cost $1.5 million.
Finally, public participation and outreach was included in the budget.
“The Work Group recommends continuing to expand the number of people and organizations involved in the next biennium including a specific focus to engage young people and landowners,” a release from the Work Group said.
“The news is that this process is going forward to the next step,” Vander Stoep said.