The University of Washington projected that a major flood occurs in Lewis County every 15 years. On Dec. 3, 2007, a catastrophic flood hit Lewis County with water up to 18 feet above the Chehalis River flood stage. Interstate 5 was closed for a week at a loss in business cost of $48 million to the state of Washington. Homes, farms, and businesses were destroyed. The National Guard was called in to help evacuate stranded people and animals. Thousands of people were made homeless. The destruction was devastating, and actual losses exceeded a half a billion dollars.
I was a Republican member of the Washington State House of Representatives for the 20th Legislative District at the time, including rural parts of Thurston County and all of Lewis County. Finding a long-term solution to the flooding issue in our district was my primary goal for the upcoming 2008 legislative session. There was strong bipartisan support, and I sponsored several relief and restoration bills in cooperation with democrat Sen. Karen Fraser from the 22nd District. These bills included the establishment of a Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, a new Office of the Chehalis Basin in the Department of Ecology, and a $50 million capital budget appropriation to construct a dam and/or a series of diversion ponds to control the flow of water on the Chehalis, Skookumchuck and Newaukum Rivers.
As each year passed with no flooding, interest was lost in investing in a longterm solution. The major unused part of the capital budget appropriation was redirected to other state projects. Fast forward 15 years to 2022, and another major flood occurs in early January that closes Interstate 5, and devastates homes, farms, and businesses in Lewis County. I am sure there will be some current interest from the local legislators to address this recent flood. But I am betting on a few dry years will lead to another unresolved devastating flood in 2037.