Sizeable Investment From State on Flooding Would Pay Off, Leaders Say


Representatives of various organizations interested in flood and stormwater issues in the state addressed the Washington Waters Task Force in Olympia Friday.

The groups laid out the issues facing the region, or people they represent, and how the problems could be addressed if the state committed $1 billion to each over 10 years.

Representatives from the Chehalis River Basin discussed the ongoing issue of flooding in the watershed. 

The newly formed bipartisan task force first met in October of last year. Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, is a co-chairman of the group. 

“I appreciate the hundreds of hours of work that’s gone into this. It’s nice to see it all in one place and rolling along,” DeBolt said.

DeBolt said he’s thankful for the work that has gone into protecting communities and habitat in the Chehalis Basin.

The Chehalis Basin is the second-largest watershed in the state, and it has suffered five of its largest floods in history in the past 30 years.

Jim Kramer, facilitator with the Ruckelshaus Center for the Chehalis Basin Strategy, said flooding is expected to get worse in the basin in the coming years.

J. Vander Stoep, with the Governor’s Chehalis Basin Work Group, said fixes for the flooding will address not only economic damage to communities but also fish habitat loss.

“It’s a big problem. It’s costing a lot of money,” he said.

While solutions will be costly, he said, they will have a net positive benefit to the state.

Vander Stoep said flooding in the basin accounts for 28 percent of all Federal Emergency Management Agency flood payouts in the state since 1980, which is about $560 million.

Fishery habitat in the basin is declining, and if the floods continue to worsen and summers continue to be dryer, Vander Stoep said, according to biologists, the chinook salmon will disappear.

The proposed solution developed by the work group includes 100 miles of habitat restoration, water retention and land use issues.

Vander Stoep said the solution cost ranges from $500 million to $600 million with a potential benefit of $720 million.

The benefits will be larger if floods and droughts worsen in the future, he said. 

The Washington State Department of Ecology is evaluating the work group’s proposed solution along with three others as part of a programmatic environmental impact statement that is scheduled to be completed in December.

Vickie Raines, Grays Harbor County commissioner and chairwoman of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, said the county has invested $125,000 in a master plan to protect the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam. But she said the entire basin needs to be considered.

“There are improvements that could be made in Lewis County on down through Thurston and Grays Harbor County,” Raines said. 

Scott McKinney, floodplain management state coordinator for Ecology, said about $2 billion has been damaged by flooding in the state since 1980. He said that according to FEMA every $1 spent on mitigation can save $3 or $4. So, he said, if the state had spent $500 million, much of those $2 billion in damage could have been prevented.

Since 2013 ecology has awarded funds to 21 out of 117 requested flood projects throughout the state.

Other groups and organizations spoke on flooding and stormwater issues elsewhere in the state at the Friday meeting. 

The Department of Ecology is currently working on an environmental impact statement. Data collection and analysis is currently underway with the goal to determine the potential results of a number of projects aimed at reducing flooding and improving fish habitat. 

The draft EIS is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2016 with a public comment period on the document in the summer. The final EIS is planned to be released in the fall or winter of 2016.