Two men standing on the Corbet Theatre stage at Centralia College Monday night represented a shifting tide in the decades-old quest for flood mitigation projects in the Chehalis River Basin.
Chehalis Tribal Chairman David Burnett and local attorney and Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority alternate J. Vander Stoep outlined ongoing efforts to blunt the effects of seasonal flooding that has at times altered and destroyed lives and livelihoods, both in Lewis County and downstream.
The fact that the two occupied the same stage in delivering a sort of “state of the union” on flood mitigation to attendees shows in and of itself that progress has been made.
No more are protecting fisheries and mitigating flooding on opposite sides of the debate, as has been the case in years past.
Instead, Burnett and Vander Stoep — both members of the Work Group that led the successful effort to get $28.2 million in state funding for projects and studies — are working together to educate the public and, more importantly, bring real results to a basin that has seen more than its share of real destruction.
The state allocation includes $9.2 million for the study and design of a water retention dam; $10.7 million for local flood protection projects; $4.4 million for projects that both reduce flooding and benefit fish; and $2.2 million for project management and permitting.
“What we have, since 1933, is a lot of studies and not a lot of progress,” Vander Stoep said. “It’s a long history of failure.”
That’s beginning to change.
All throughout the Chehalis River Basin — the second largest river basin in Washington — projects are underway, some providing immediate fixes to small problems, others examining the possibilities of much larger realities, such as a water retention in the upper basin near Pe Ell.
The raising of the Airport Levee to protect against 100-year flood events is still underway. It’s a project that will provide protection for the airport, the retail stores and Interstate 5 in one of the most economically viable areas of Lewis County.
Other projects include building a dike to protect the city of Pe Ell’s wastewater treatment plant and a levee around the city of Bucoda’s wellhead to protect the town’s drinking water system. Levee and drainage improvements have also occurred near Adna.
Water retention, though, has acted as a dividing point in the past.
Now, due to a new spirit of cooperation that is no more apparent than on the Work Group, water retention is being given a serious look by all parties involved.
Vander Stoep said the Work Group won’t allow flooding just to improve fish habitat, and won’t kill fish habitat to improve emergency response. They will find a system that does it all, Vander Stoep said.
Burnett, Vander Stoep and others who have rallied in recent years to move past the bickering and into a new era of cooperation should be celebrated, as should the meaningful moves toward flood reduction projects that have resulted.
There’s still a long way to go, but the state of flood mitigation efforts is promising.