Our Views: China Creek an Example of Success in Chehalis Basin

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Centralia’s China Creek project is proof of the value of the Chehalis Basin process and a model for the fish enhancement and flood protection opportunities that are before us.

China Creek originates to the east of Centralia. The creek runs downhill into the heart of the city. It runs underground next to city hall, then under the offices of The Chronicle, through Centralia College and residential neighborhoods and then runs under Interstate 5 near Plummer Lake before the waters from the China Creek enter the main stem of the Chehalis River. 

Visitors to Centralia see China Creek in the summer looking like a large ditch with a small amount of flowing water. 

In the winter, it is highly prone to flooding. By itself China Creek is not the source of major catastrophic flooding, but it does create repeated flood damage and interruption for many families and businesses.

However, during the kind of catastrophic storms and floods that hit the basin every five to 10 years, China Creek becomes a significant contributor to flood damage in Centralia. 

The reason is twofold. 

First, there is too much water coming down China Creek itself and the creek overflows. But the second and larger contributor during major floods is that when the main stem of the Chehalis River is flooding, China Creek’s water cannot enter the main stem.

During these times, floodwater from the main stem of the Chehalis River flows into China Creek and adds to flooding in Centralia.   

In the last decade, the City of Centralia along with representatives of the Chehalis Tribe collaborated to develop a plan to reduce flood damage from China Creek, open the creek to fish passage and create better spawning habitat in upper China Creek. 

The plan is more proof of success for the Chehalis Basin strategy. 

Through bipartisan support in Olympia, the China Creek project has been funded in its first two phases.

The project causes more water to be stored longer upstream, reducing the level of floodwater in the city during high flows. Also included is a significant investment in planting of trees along the banks of the creek and the creation of other habit improvements.

The coalition of tribes, agricultural interests and local governments supported by the governor and Legislature has accomplished a lot of good things in communities across the Chehalis Basin. 

The China Creek project is one of those. It represents a net win-win for flood reduction and fishery enhancement.

We urge the participants in the Chehalis Basin process to keep working on the hard issues ahead. The future of so much of this basin depends on your finding ways to reach win strategies.

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