In the wake of January flooding across the Chehalis River Basin, flood mitigation programs have come under a regional spotlight as many residents do everything they can to lessen the possibility of future flood damage.
One such initiative is the Community Flood Assistance and Resilience (CFAR) program that was launched by the Office of the Chehalis Basin in 2020.
The Office of the Chehalis Basin was established by the state Legislature in 2016.
“The CFAR program is focused on preventing future flood-related damages to both individual homes and businesses as well as broader community aspects,” said Andrea McNamara Doyle, director of the Office of the Chehalis Basin. “It’s also focused on addressing and resolving existing risks on a more individualized basis — so homeowner by homeowner, or business owner by business owner.”
The program works to provide technical assistance to those in the region and offers a series of additional small-scale, flood-related supports across the region, McNamara Doyle said.
The CFAR program has funding through the Office of the Chehalis Basin, provided by the state Legislature to implement the recommendations determined by the technical assistance the program offers to people.
During 2020 and 2021, CFAR focused on providing technical assistance to interested homeowners and working in the community to help connect folks to CFAR funding, said McNamara Doyle.
To provide technical assistance, CFAR consultants such as French Wetmore visit people interested in protecting their properties from flooding and offer flood-mitigation strategies to them.
“We visit the property owner who has had a problem and we walk around the house and look at what the concerns are and come up with recommendations,” Wetmore said. “They vary from working the drainage from the neighboring property, to raising the building, to moving the building out of harm’s way.”
As of now, the CFAR program has over a dozen projects it is trying to move from the technical-advice part of the process into the funding and implementation stages.
By far, Wetmore said the strategy of elevating homes to keep flood waters at bay is the most popular option.
“Of the properties we’ve talked to, especially those on the lower rivers, elevation is the way to go. There’s interest in it,” Wetmore said, adding later: “There are options other than elevation, but definitely for most houses, elevation is preferred. It is nationally recognized.”
To elevate a home, workers dig around the side of the building and send beams between the foundation and the bottom beam-structure of the home. Next, they use specialized jacks, complete with a self-leveling system, to raise the homes while the flood-foundation level is built.
The flood-foundation level is built up to a point that would prevent water from entering the original home barring a truly catastrophic event.
At the base of the new flood-foundation level, contractors strategically place vents to allow water to flow through the newly constructed space under the home.
“Most of them are what’s called a ‘smart vent,’” Wetmore said. “So these openings are closed all the time, which is good for insulating and all, but they’re built so that when the water gets to a (certain level) they trigger and let the water in.”
A relatively recent project the Office of the Chehalis Basin has completed was the retrofitting of already-raised homes to ensure their proper function. The vents in the flood walls were either not installed in the right place or were missing altogether on 10 homes in Bucoda. So the organization went in and performed the work necessary on the elevated homes to let the water flow through them, rather than let water pressure build up around the buildings during a flood.
About a decade ago, it would have cost about $50,000 to elevate a home, Wetmore said, but now with the changes in the market and supply issues, the cost is closer to $100,000.
Though if multiple homes were done at the same time, as in Bucoda, there would be considerable savings, which is the benefit of a centralized office doing the work, he said.
The CFAR program may just be getting underway with the work of elevating homes, but the City of Centralia has been doing it since the 90s.
“In the past, Centralia has worked with, I would say, close to 200 homes to be elevated,” said Emil Pierson, Centralia community development director. “They were done in two major time frames. One was done right after the 1996 flood. A lot of homes in Centralia, especially north of the Skookumchuck, were elevated at that time. And then after the ‘07 flood, we raised approximately … 33 after that flood event.”
As it stands now, any new home in the floodplain has to be elevated, Pierson said.
The City of Centralia will work with folks who want to try to raise their homes by connecting them with potential funding services, such as the Office of the Chehalis Basin.
Pierson mentioned that many other homeowners in the area have done their own home elevations independently, with varying results.
As seen in Bucoda, some homeowners elevate their homes but do not place the vents in the right places.
“For us, it’s really easy to tell, because if their flood vents are up by the top of the flood wall … then we know it didn’t meet FEMA requirements,” Pierson said. “If you look and the flood vents are towards the bottom of that flood foundation wall, that’s how we know if they meet FEMA requirements.”
Even the best mitigation strategies do not replace the need for flood insurance, Pierson said.
“We strongly encourage people to know where their home is located and to make sure that they have flood insurance,” he said. “That’s the number one key to making sure your home and your assets are protected. We care about our residents here and we want to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
According to FEMA, the work Centralia did after the 2007 flood really did take care of the residents involved.
A 2008 FEMA-published report states: “Had they not been elevated, all of the 35 homes in our study would have had inundation damage, or significant incremental damage from the December 2007 flood event. Fifteen of the structures would have experienced less than 2 feet of water, 18 would have been flooded between 2 and 5 feet, and 2 would have had over 5 feet of water above pre-mitigation first floor elevations. One home would have had 9 feet of inundation.”
According to the report, the 2007 flood would have caused between $6,574 and $186,122 in flood losses for each home, and thanks to Centralia’s efforts, an estimated $1,905,760 was saved due to home elevations.
“The cost-effectiveness of these Centralia elevation projects was clearly established for a single flood event,” the FEMA report stated.
“It can be expected that the payoff from mitigation expenditures will continue to increase over the effective life of the structures, as cumulative losses avoided grow with subsequent flood events.”
For more information on the CFAR program, go online to https://chehalisbasinstrategy.com/cfar/. Visit the City of Centraila’s emergency information tab for information on the city’s emergency resources at https://www.cityofcentralia.com/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=43.