Comments open on Chehalis Basin flood reduction projects

Environmental evaluation for proposed Chehalis River flood reduction project ready for review

Public can review, comment on draft environmental study through April 27

The Washington Department of Ecology has finished its draft environmental review of a proposal by the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District to reduce damage from major floods.

The Flood District proposed to build a flood retention dam and temporary reservoir on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell, and make changes around the Chehalis-Centralia Airport that include raising the levee.

Public meetings have been scheduled in Montesano and Centralia regarding the review.

Ecology has shared the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for public review and comment through April 27. 

Documents are available and comments can be submitted online at the project website.

The proposed project is one of an array of small- and large-scale projects and short- and long-term actions the Chehalis Basin Board will consider as it develops the Chehalis Basin Strategy to reduce flood-related damage and restore aquatic species habitat throughout the Chehalis River basin.

According to a release, the projects would cover;

  • A flood protection dam and temporary reservoir near Pe Ell to reduce damages during a major or catastrophic flood. The structure and reservoir would only be used during major or larger storm events, by temporarily holding back floodwater until it is safe to release it back to the river.
  • Fish passage facilities at the flood protection dam to allow fish to pass both upstream and downstream.
  • Airport levee improvements to protect the Chehalis-Centralia Airport, local businesses, and area transportation from catastrophic flood damage.

 The Chehalis Board will consider the environmental review, as well as other information sources, to evaluate social, economic, and other public interest considerations to guide the protective and restorative strategy for the basin. 

“Climate change will drive more frequent, higher flood levels and put native fish runs at higher risk in the future—absent significant restoration efforts. Ecology has integrated climate change impacts into the EIS analysis of future conditions where the proposed dam would operate.”

In the release from Ecology, it states that the EIS found the Flood District’s project would reduce flooding to buildings and infrastructure,although it would also have significant adverse effects, mainly along the Chehalis River in the area above a proposed dam and below it to the confluence with the South Fork of the Chehalis River.

 The EIS found the project would have adverse effects on: 

  •       Salmon and other fish, and their habitat
  •       Some wildlife, such as amphibians
  •       Water quality
  •       The Chehalis River channel
  •       Recreation

The project would also increase greenhouse gas emissions and could impact tribal and cultural resources.

The release states that several impacts from the proposal would be unavoidable unless measures to offset them are determined feasible and meet regulatory requirements. This would be determined during future permitting processes by permitting agencies.

According to Chehalis Basin Strategy board member Tyson Johnston, Vice President, Quinault Indian Nation;

“Guided by best, new and emerging science, the Quinault Nation is committed to giving the dam full and fair consideration. We look forward to learning more from this study about how the dam will affect salmon and our treaty rights while we continue to weigh whether a dam can be part of a comprehensive solution to reduce flood damage and restore habitat throughout the Chehalis Basin.”

Grays Harbor County Commissioner Vickie Raines, chair of the Chehalis Basin Board added;

“The sport and commercial fishing-related businesses of Grays Harbor, Hoquiam, and Aberdeen have suffered, as has the Quinault Nation from salmon decline and sea level rise. We’ve seen these communities come together to see each other through the lean years. To survive, we need a coordinated effort to meet the accelerated impacts of a changing climate head on. This environmental review will help inform the Chehalis Basin Strategy that is working to meet that challenge.”

Ecology will hold two public hearings on the draft EIS, including an open house and presentation about the study’s findings:

 Besides submitting comments online or at an upcoming public hearing, comments can also be mailed to:

Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project EIS
Anchor QEA
1201 Third Ave., Suite 2600
Seattle, WA 98101 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing a separate environmental review of the Flood District’s proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The federal draft review is planned to be released in September 2020.