A century of fighting between advocates for fish and flood control led nowhere.
Meanwhile, the fish were in decline and the five largest floods on record have occurred in the 35 years. Starting in 2012, fighting turned to listening and then collaboration. Since then, because of the Chehalis Basin Process, more than 100 local fish or flood projects have been completed on time and in many cases under budget.
Aquatic Species Recovery Plan
The Chehalis Basin effort has produced the first ever basinwide Aquatic Species Recovery Plan (ASRP). The plan is developed and is underway. Already more than 160 miles of blocked streams have been opened to migrating salmon and other aquatic species. Miles of habitat have also been enhanced through cooperation with local landowners and funding through the Office of Chehalis Basin.
Before the Chehalis Basin Process, fish habitat projects were often small, volunteer efforts or the result of an occasional federal or state grant of $100,000 to restore part of one site here or there.
The efforts were laudable but they were so small and so random that they made almost no impact on the declining fishery. Since the collaboration between the participants in the Chehalis Basin Process, more than $70 million has been dedicated to the development and implementation of the integrated, strategic ASRP.
The long-term plan calls for the restoration of hundreds of miles of habitat. The best science says that the ASRP is the only way to preserve and enhance the Chehalis Basin fishery in the face of a changing climate and human development in the basin.
Local flood projects
More than 50 local flood projects have been completed, benefitting every community along the river. Here’s a review of these successes starting upstream and moving down:
In the upper Chehalis River, the town of Pe Ell’s then-new sewer treatment plant was flooded in 2007, with over $1 million in damage sustained and the effluent mixing with the floodwater moving downstream. Thanks to the Chehalis Basin Process, there is a high dike protecting that plant from future flooding. In Boistfort, the water treatment facility that serves 2,000 local families was flooded and put out of commission for several weeks. Now, new settling ponds will allow the Boistfort Valley system to restart sooner after the next flood. In Adna, the levee blew out during the 2007 flood and caused homes and schools to flood and put lives in danger. The old levee has been replaced and repaired with a modern levee designed to allow moderate flows through while directing enormous flood flows to remain in the river channel.
In 1943, the federal government built the Chehalis-Centralia Airport levee with very little maintenance done in the decades that followed. A sudden failure of that levee would drown drivers on I-5 as well as people in the retail stores near the airport.
The Chehalis Basin Process funded a widening and strengthening of the levee. Local people in Centralia this winter have commented that the China Creek Project, which holds water upstream longer during floods, has reduced the flooding in downtown Centralia. In Bucoda, the city’s water intake facility is now protected by a dike.
In Montesano, the erosion of the river bank threatened the mill that is the city’s largest employer.
Now the mill is protected and work is underway to save Montesano’s treatment plant.
In Cosmopolis, the 2007 flood washed out the Mill Creek dam, threatening neighborhoods in that community. The old fish-blocking dam has been replaced with a project that opens fish habitat and protects the community from major flooding. Both Hoquiam and Aberdeen have had vital pump stations upgraded, which will lessen the impacts of flooding.
All of this work to restore the basin fishery and to protect communities from localized flood impact has happened because of a collaborative effort including the Quinault Indian Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation as well as local governments and community leaders across the basin teaming up with legislators from both parties and the governor.
Big issues remain to be resolved. But it is worth remembering how much solid work has already been done.