Editor’s Note: This story is part of "Headwaters to Harbor," a project by The Chronicle to document the Chehalis River from Pe Ell to Grays Harbor while highlighting people and issues connected to the river along the way. Our coverage is compiled at www.chronline.com/Chehalis-River.
Despite having flood water in her home in 1990 and 2007, if Betsie De Wreede were to go back in time, she’d still encourage her past self to move to the Independence Valley.
When she heard about The Chronicle’s Headwaters to Harbor journey on the Chehalis River, she reached out to share her experience living next to it.
The river isn’t why she moved to her place, but as a farmer, it has helped her.
“I moved here for the opportunity to have access to land. The river provides excellent, rich floodplain soil,” De Wreede said.
When she first moved to the area, she said most of her social life had to take place in Olympia and that she felt disconnected from her neighbors. Ever since, she feels the area has become more and more welcoming.
“The community has grown incredibly since I came here,” she said, adding later, “Now I ride my bike up and down the valley and do errands and drop things off. It’s a really great, great place to live. We all help each other. I feel pretty fortunate.”
Now that her home has been twice lifted, De Wreede said flooding has minimal impact on her livelihood. For others near her, she said flooding is still consistently devastating. However, she felt flood predictions in more recent years have erred on the side of caution, which has given farmers more time to loft property and produce. In 2007, she said, she watched the forecasted river level update by 24 inches at one time.
“I’m like, ‘I gotta go. That’s a huge amount,’” De Wreede said.
De Wreede worries about the way climate change will affect flooding in the future, but unlike the Chehalis River Basin Flood Zone Control District, she thinks a proposed dam is a “mistake and a waste of taxpayer money.”
Referring to it as “the dam” or “the water retention facility” is enough background necessary for most people close to the river.
During major storms, the proposed project would hold back water near the Chehalis River headwaters, just a short jaunt upstream from Pe Ell.
According to a recent newsletter by the Office of Chehalis Basin, the facility, which is being proposed by the district, is in the final federal and state environmental impact statement process.
According to the newsletter, the project applicant is “committed to meeting strict state and federal seismic standards, in order to minimize risk of damage during an earthquake” and to adapting the proposed design of fish passages through the dam to minimize impact on salmon migration.
Betsie said the dam will affect salmon runs, adding, “That’s a fact.”
She also said she “resents the landfill in Chehalis and Centralia.”
Asked about her ideal solutions to flooding, she said, “I'm not so involved in what the solutions are. I do believe that climate change is contributing to it.”