Unlike most Washingtonians, I think about rivers and floodplains every day — I live on the river. I’m a retired organic vegetable farmer. I have the Chehalis River and its floodplain to thank for my farm’s fertile soil. I can see salmon spawning from our property.
But as our population and economy grows and our climate shifts, dramatic changes have altered the very nature of the Chehalis River. We’ve filled in or cut off wetland habitat that was home to once-plentiful fish and wildlife. We’ve changed the shape and flow of our rivers, disrupting the ancient connection of freshwater to floodplains and the sea. The consequences are catching up to us: salmon runs are diminished or extinct, family farms are rapidly disappearing and poor water quality frequently closes shellfish beds. Floodplain communities are now experiencing so-called “100-year floods” every few years, and climate models don’t predict a rosier future. Our region’s rivers, infrastructure and communities need a new approach.
If built, there is no guarantee that a dam and reservoir will protect us from floods. Instead, we need real and proven solutions that will benefit everyone who lives in this valley. Solutions such as massive culvert replacement projects, allowing uninhabited areas to flood and making sure that no future development ever occurs in the floodplain. Our cities must take steps to reduce impervious surfaces, and our counties must take steps to move people and structures out of harm’s way.
Let’s start working on real solutions for the Chehalis basin. We don’t have time to wait.