I am a retired organic produce farmer in Independence Valley. My farm and house have been inundated by floodwaters numerous times in the 37 years that I’ve lived in the Chehalis watershed.
Like many farmers in this valley, I chose to live, farm and raise my family in this area because of its prime agricultural soils — soils that accumulated due to centuries of flooding. My neighbors and I have adapted to living here and we continue to adapt building critter pads, raised storage areas and more.
In 1994, I raised my house 32 inches after getting 9 inches of water in my house. After the 2007 flood and more water inside, I raised it another 32 inches. Nearly all the residents from here to the bridge upstream have done the same. We chose to live next to this river, and we’ve learned to live with flooding. We don’t feel that a flood control dam is the best way to alleviate flooding; it certainly won’t benefit the majority of residents in the floodplain. A dam will do nothing to solve the yearly small flood events that are eroding banks, destroying homes and washing away people's livelihoods.
Many studies show that "green infrastructure" is often cheaper and more effective than engineered projects like dams and levees; increased permeable surfaces, open spaces and tree planting for starters. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently came out with a new policy promoting mitigation projects that provide environmental benefits in addition to flood protection. Our communities need good paying jobs that will last for decades to come. Bringing in massive amounts of concrete and contractors for a handful of years has only short-term effects on the local economy. I’m in favor of creating economic resilience with jobs focused on restoration and resilience — stepping stones to a healthier community.
Our state and our country are experiencing a fiscal emergency. Let’s take forward steps that we know will work to help save our struggling Chinook and steelhead and help solve flooding without building an expensive dam — steps like home buyouts to move people out of harm’s way, assistance in building flood-safe structures to store equipment and livestock, and expanding flood-absorbing natural features such as wetlands and floodplains. Stop filling the wetlands along the I-5 corridor in Lewis County. Restoring the headwaters and changing logging practices in the headwaters is also essential.
Our children and grandchildren deserve a functioning and thriving Chehalis Basin, not a concrete structure that will need to be enlarged in 60 years, when models show the dam will no longer have major impacts on flood reduction so the litigation will begin anew. Future generations will have numerous challenges to solve, most caused by the preceding generation’s inability to act and think long-term. Let’s not add to those challenges. A dam is a short-term bandaid, not a long-term solution.
I applaud the recent efforts by the Chehalis Basin Board to involve the public, and look forward to participating in upcoming public meetings on Feb. 17 about small-scale, local actions.