Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority earns national floodplain management award

Two men constructing a new metal berm with some of the metal pieces standing in places and some awaiting installation laying on the ground.

In 2014, the Flood Authority helped construct a new berm around the settling ponds at the Montesano wastewater treatment plant. During the major 2007 flood, waters from the Wynoochee river nearly overtopped the existing berm.

An essential partner helping develop and carry out the Chehalis Basin Strategy has earned a prestigious national award.

The Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority has been working with the Chehalis Basin Board and our Office of Chehalis Basin on a collection of actions to reduce damage from floods while restoring aquatic habitat in the Chehalis River basin.

Last week, the Association of State Floodplain Managers announced that the Flood Authority earned its 2019 James Lee Witt Award for Excellence in Floodplain Management. It's only the second time in 33 years an organization in Washington has received the award.

More than 19,000 professional floodplain managers from across the country belong to the national association. Its mission is to promote education, policies, and activities that mitigate current and future losses, costs, and human suffering caused by flooding, and to protect the natural and beneficial functions of floodplains.

Of all natural disasters, floods and flooding are the single greatest cause of adverse social, economic, and environmental impacts. Since 1971, there have been 14 federally declared disasters in the Chehalis basin from flooding.

Water flowing down a low-incline metal slide into a large puddle.

New Sickman-Ford overflow bridge helping Oakville avoid flooding.

The association recognized the Flood Authority for its outstanding and aggressive programs aimed at mitigating flood risk, reducing flood damage, and increasing flood threat awareness in the Chehalis basin — the state’s second-largest river drainage system.

“We have come a long way in 10 years,” said Grays Harbor County Commissioner Vickie Raines. “The Flood Authority has helped transform how basin governments approach floodplain management. We have gone from being reactive to being on the cutting edge.”

Raines is also a chair of the Flood Authority, which is made up of officials from the principle jurisdictions in the basin affected by flooding including Grays Harbor, Lewis, and Thurston counties, and Aberdeen, Bucoda, Centralia, Chehalis, Cosmopolis, Hoquiam, Montesano, Napavine, Oakville, and Pe Ell. Other communities in the basin have also benefited from the Flood Authority’s expertise and support.

Chain link fence with flood warning gauge attached to one pole with water, trees, and large woody debris behind it.

New flood warning gauge at Montesano wastewater treatment plant next to new berm, next to nearby Wynoochee River.

When river levels rise in the basin during storms, the Flood Authority maintains a flood warning system based on real-time data from more than 80 different weather and stream gauges that alert interested parties about rising river levels. Since the 2014-15 flood season, more than 1,000 residents and businesses have signed up to receive email alerts from the Flood Authority’s flood warning system.

In addition, the Flood Authority also assisted communities in the basin improve their floodplain management programs by leading a comprehensive review of local programs and practices. This review was turned into a report that communities have used to adopt new regulatory standards that are higher than state and federal requirements.

“Locals know what works best locally,” said Edna Fund, Lewis County Commissioner and vice-chair of the Flood Authority. “We have helped retrofit homes with effective flood vents, and constructed farm pads at over 24 rural locations to save livestock, farm equipment, feed, and keep farm chemicals out of the environment in times of flood. While the state has been an important partner, providing expertise, oversight, and funding, it’s been a locally-driven approach that’s successfully encouraged Basin residents to be more aware, innovative, and better prepared for flooding.”

Read more about the Flood Authority’s efforts leading to receipt of this year’s award.

Besides the Flood Authority, Commissioners Raines and Fund are also members of the Chehalis Basin Board that provides long-term oversight of the Chehalis Basin Strategy. The Board is responsible for developing budget recommendations to the governor’s office to implement the strategy and is supported by our Office of Chehalis Basin.