The Washington Department of Ecology has completed its environmental review of a suite of options designed to reduce flood damage and restore critical aquatic habitat in the Chehalis River basin.
The Chehalis Basin Strategy is a comprehensive and integrated approach for managing the second largest river basin in the state where salmon runs have been declining and major floods are getting larger and more frequent.
Ecology’s environmental review – officially referred to as a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) – evaluated four potential alternative combination of actions designed to address the challenge of reducing flood damage and restore aquatic habitat. The EIS also assessed a “no action” alternative that looked at what would happen if current practices continued.
The EIS for the Chehalis Basin Strategy differs from an environmental review focused on a single project because it looks more broadly at environmental issues related to putting the different alternatives in place as part of an integrated, basin-wide strategy.
While determining the scope of the EIS, Ecology identified four potential actions. Each is characterized by different combinations of small, localized actions as well as broader, basin-wide actions to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic habitat.
Some actions under consideration include whether and where to construct new dams and levees and to improve existing flood protection infrastructure as well as the best approaches for restoring aquatic habitat in the basin.
“Our comprehensive review pulled together information about flooding, declining fish runs, and other environmental challenges people living in the Chehalis basin have faced for nearly 80 years,” said Gordon White, Ecology’s lead manager working with the governor’s Chehalis Basin Work Group. “It’s clear that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solve these complex issues. This effort will need the continued dedication of a diverse network of stakeholders to develop a final integrated strategy to reduce damage from floods and restore salmon and other critical species. Working together, I know we will succeed.”
The EIS is not a decision or a permit. Instead, it is an assessment of the potential impacts the various combined alternatives would have on people and the environment. The review process examined the trade-offs associated with implementing each alternative action to help decision-makers and the public understand the potential impacts of each approach.
The Chehalis Basin Strategy has been spearheaded by the Chehalis Basin Work Group, made up of representatives from the agricultural and environmental community as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Quinault Indian Nation, Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority and governor’s office.
The work group requested that Ecology conduct an environmental review of the strategy. After Ecology released its draft EIS in September 2016, the department received more than 500 public comments.
The final EIS responds to these comments and identifies future analyses that need to be conducted to address issues that are more specific than can be addressed in a broad, programmatic environmental review.
In July, a new state Office of Chehalis Basin will be created within Ecology, focusing on implementing an integrated strategy that reduces flood damage and restores aquatic species. The governor’s work group will transition to become the Chehalis Board, which will oversee implementation of the Chehalis Basin Strategy.