Action Is Needed Now to Reduce Flood Damage

An aerial view of the Chehalis River showing an elevated roadway, trees, and wetlands.


Current and past studies do not address the near term needs of the basin. While there is a major proposal currently under environmental review to construct a dam on the upper Chehalis River to reduce damages from major floods from Pe Ell to Centralia triggered by rainfall in the Willapa Hills, the dam would only store floodwater during major floods and would not address flood damage throughout the basin. The dam’s impacts on socially, environmentally, and culturally significant areas, and the feasibility of completing such a single large project, are also significant hurdles to overcome. The need for a more comprehensive solution is required. While there have been nearly 50 small local projects funded through the Flood Authority & Chehalis Basin Strategy that have reduced flooding impacts in the basin, these have not been part of a fully integrated plan. 

We need short-, medium-, and long-term actions that can be implemented locally to reduce the impacts of flooding. Flood damage reduction cannot wait for solutions that might be decades away—and still not protect public and private in investment in the basin. 

Community input and engagement opportunities will continue through early 2023 to provide further input on the communitybased flood damage reduction options.

The Basin is home to migratory birds, wildlife, amphibians, and fish, including one of the state’s most important salmon strongholds. By 2025, over 220,000 people will also call the Basin home. It supports industries like fishing, timber, agriculture, tourism, and recreation. And the river system has long been—and continues to be—an integral part of the culture, economy, history, and spiritual identity of the Chehalis, Quinault, and other tribes of the region.

Population growth and development and a quickly changing climate all point to the need to act now. Within the last 50 years, major floods occurred in 1972, 1975, 1986, 1990, 1996, 2007, 2009 and 2022. With the impacts of climate change, flooding has become increasingly severe—the 1996, 2007, 2009 and 2022 floods are the four largest floods on record, and the 2007 and 2009 floods occurred only 14 months apart. Flooding puts homes, businesses, towns, and fish and wildlife at greater and greater risk. Now, climate change is making the situation potentially catastrophic.

An aerial view of flooding in the Chehalis Basin, with a submerged highway and flooded homes.
An aerial view of a meandering section of the Chehalis River.

Shared Values Lead to Community Action

Community-based flood damage reduction must be firmly rooted in values shared across the Basin—the values that tie us together as a community—and lead to solutions that address all community needs.

In May 2022, community leaders, non-profits, tribes, advocacy organizations, and others created a set of shared values to guide how community-based flood damage reduction can be achieved.

These include:

Family, Culture, Heritage:
The strength of the Chehalis Basin comes from its people and the diverse heritages, cultures, and experiences they represent.

Natural Wonder:
We value Chehalis Basin’s unique environment, employment and recreation options, and a home to a wide array of animal and plant life.

Economic Vitality:
We strive to support local economies, keeping Chehalis Basin businesses robust. A thriving regional economy inspires innovation.

Truth, Respect, Self Determination:
The future of the Chehalis Basin must be decided by the community itself. We recognize and respect the rights of Tribal Nations and all private property owners in the Chehalis Basin.

Public Safety and Resiliency:
Safeguarding our communities from the negative impacts of flooding is fundamental. Adequate infrastructure should ensure regional resiliency.

Healthy Environment and Healthy People:
We envision a solution that prioritizes the well-being of our people and our environment.

Equitable outcomes for the basin

Basin residents and business that are most affected by flooding often have the least ability to recover after an event.

Community-based flood damage reduction incorporates an equity framework that considers potential impacts on all individuals and property owners, as well as the land uses most affected by flooding. Programs and interventions must generate equitable outcomes for all individuals and businesses living and working throughout all communities across the study area. The following strategies are being considered:

Floodplain Management and Restoration Opportunities
that reduce the severity and impacts of more frequent, but minor flood events that still impact homes and businesses;

Programs to Assist
landowners, residents, renters, and business with their structures through a Safe Structures Program;

Improvements to the Transportation System That Provides Vehicle Access in the event of a catastrophic event;

Programs and Projects to Speed Recovery after an event; and

Management and Funding
considerations for implementing future recommendations

These potential strategies will be further refined as the community-based strategies evolve in early 2023. 

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles provide decisionmakers with a baseline that has been agreed upon and that strives to minimize the negative impacts on the largest number of people, while ensuring an equitable distribution of risks and responsibilities.

The Guiding Principles focus on ensuring local control and leadership:

  1. All properties that might be adversely affected by any of the interventions will be mitigated at little or no cost to the affected property owner.
  2. Property owners and tenants will be compensated fairly, assuming pre-disaster conditions, for voluntary relocations or property acquisition.
  3. Site selection and site planning for any designated “receiving areas” for those relocated will be guided by a combination of local codes, quality design standards, and community input.
  4. To the greatest degree practicable, proposed flood protection measures would be locally led and based on reasonable cost/benefit assumptions with consideration for all impacted property owners and tenants at all income levels.
  5. Alternatives will address actions to reduce flood damage for property owners and tenants in the short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years), and long term (10+ years).
  6. All proposed flood protection measures will be consistent with the goals of the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP), and will minimize impacts to aquatic and semi-aquatic species, while maintaining and supporting the revitalization of salmon fishery.
  7. All proposed flood protection measures will be designed using currently available, peer-reviewed ecological and biological science, to reduce potential harmful impacts, and to restore and revitalize the natural systems of the watershed, where feasible.
  8. The LAND Alternatives will be designed to support community economic vitality throughout the Chehalis River Basin.

Emerging Options

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