The Washington Department of Ecology is awarding $63 million to 12 recipients including tribes, counties, and conservation group cross Washington as part of a program to designed to transform how floodplains in the state’s major river basins are managed.
Funding comes from the state Floodplains by Design program, a public-private partnership led by Ecology, Bonneville Environmental Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, with support from American Rivers, a tribal liaison, and other contractors. Ecology administers Floodplains by Design funds through a competitive grant program.
“We are working with partners across the state to improve the resiliency of Washington’s floodplains so that we can protect community health, safety, and the environment,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. “Floodplains are essential. They provide important habitat for salmon, rich soil for farms, and remarkable opportunities for recreation and enjoying nature.”
A floodplain is the area of land adjacent to a river that stretches from the banks of a river channel to the base of the enclosing valley. Floodplains often experience flooding during heavy rains, storms, and rapid snowmelt. Since flooding can disperse nutrients, floodplain soils are often fertile, making them desirable areas for agriculture. Floodplains are also critical for a myriad of fish and wildlife species, and home to most of Washington’s salmon spawning and rearing habitat.
Floodplains by Design projects are community-led, bringing together stakeholders and a diverse array of interests including agriculture, habitat conservation and improving community flood risks Since the program was launched in 2013, the Washington Legislature has provided $283 million to support 57 floodplain projects to reduce flood risks in 18 counties.
Communities are grappling with pressing challenges related to flood risks, cultural identities and rural economic vitality, said Kas Guilleozet, senior watershed director at Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
“What sets Floodplains by Design apart is the flexibility of funding and the unique public-private partnership to keep the program responsive to community needs. These projects are helping Washington build much-needed resilience to climate change,” she said.
Floodplains by Design projects typically include many different components that seem separate, but when taken together, give rivers more room to move naturally. As a result, communities experience reduced flood risks, fish and wildlife benefit from improved habitat, and recreational opportunities are enhanced.
“The Floodplains by Design model of empowering inclusive community decision-making ensures design solutions will ultimately leave local people and ecosystems better aligned and more resilient,” said Bob Carey, The Nature Conservancy Washington’s director of strategic partnerships. “In Washington, Floodplains by Design as a proven track record of success that communities globally can replicate to address floodplain concerns locally.”
Through 2022, Floodplains by Design-supported projects reconnected 7,925 acres of wetlands and riparian forests to rivers in Washington. In addition, projects have permanently protected 5,476 acres of land – including farmland, restored 71 miles of salmon habitat, and reduced flood risks to 3,084 homes and structures.
Research has shown that every dollar invested in flood mitigation saves an average of $7 in flood damage.
2023-25 Floodplains by Design grant awards
Quileute Nation ($10.1 million) will restore natural river processes for the Quillayute River in Jefferson County. The Floodplains by Design project will improve floodplain functions and connectivity, alleviate erosion, reduce flood hazards, improve salmon habitat, increase climate resiliency, and improve access to tribal and recreational fishing.
Whatcom County Public Works Department ($10 million) will continue a multi-phased project to integrate flood hazard reduction and salmon recovery with the needs of agriculture and other land uses in the Nooksack River watershed.
Pierce County Planning & Public Works ($9.9 million) will target 300 river miles and eight reaches of the Puyallup River watershed and help restore 10 miles of river .
Snohomish County Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ($9.9 million) will continue its community floodplain solutions program for the Snohomish River watershed to increase ecological functions, reduce flooding impacts and protect and enhance farmland.
Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians ($8.8 million) will coordinate an effort to reduce flood impacts, protect and enhance farmland productivity, maintain open space and improve water quality in the Stillaguamish River watershed.
Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership ($5.4 million) will reduce flood and erosion risk while restoring floodplain function along three miles of the lower East Fork Lewis River severely impacted by gravel mining and development. Besides regrading the part of floodplain to reflect natural contours, other actions include removing four levees, relocating public infrastructure, and returning the meandering river channel.
Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation ($4.2 million) will acquire at-risk parcels within the city of Twisp threatened by Methow River flooding. The project is designed to restore salmon habitat, protect lives and property, and keep non-regulated flood protection measures from being constructed.
Forterra NW ($3.5 million) will help property owners sell at-risk properties in the Skagit County town of Hamilton vulnerable to flooding. Once the properties are acquired, Forterra will help restore the Skagit River floodway by demolishing structures, removing septic systems, and planting native trees.
Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation ($1.2 million) will restore floodplain capacity and connectivity, provide for river channel migration, and improve riparian conditions to help create 1.5 miles of salmon habitat along the Methow River in Okanogan County.
Kittitas Conservation Trust ($1 million) to design the Hanson Ponds Floodplain Restoration Project near Cle Elum. The project will protect infrastructure, reduce flood hazards for adjacent and downstream landowners, improve floodplain functions, create and enhance off-channel habitat for salmon and other native fish, create wetland habitat, and enhance recreational opportunities for the community.
Skagit Conservation District ($237,000) will model and collect data to restore Colony Creek in the unincorporated community of Bow, part of the Samish River watershed. The information obtained through this project will be used to improve water quality, reduce flood hazards, enhance fish habitat, increase farm productivity, and reduce bacteria in shellfish growing areas.
Finally, starting in 2023-25, Bonneville Environmental Foundation will receive $824,000 to provide statewide technical assistance and facilitate public-private-tribal advisory groups for future Floodplains by Design projects. The foundation was selected as the designated Floodplains by Design nongovernmental organization partner though a separate competitive process.