Our new Office of Chehalis Basin

Effort to curb flooding and restore river habitat now part of Ecology's work

Treed area with Chehalis River running through it.

At the bucolic headwaters of the Chehalis River where its east and west forks meet in southwest Lewis County, a person might never know the true power of the river and the significant challenges it sometimes brings to downstream communities.

Five of the largest floods in the river’s history have occurred in the last 30 years. Most recently, in 2007 and 2009, devastating Chehalis River floods closed a 20-mile section of Interstate 5 at the city of Chehalis, essentially land-locking Western Washington. On a more regular basis, the Chehalis floods down-river property as other rivers join it before draining into Grays Harbor.

And while there have been robust runs of most salmon species every year for the past 30 years, poor returns of one or more species of salmon have significantly limited tribal and non-tribal harvest. Human caused impacts on aquatic habitat have been extensive.

Flooding waters rising to height of sign.

A 20-mile section of Interstate 5 at the City of Chehalis was shut down during the last two major flood events.

In an effort to pursue implementation of an integrated strategy for long-term flood damage reduction and aquatic species restoration in the Chehalis River Basin, in 2016 the Washington Legislature created a new Office of Chehalis Basin, which started operating within the Department of Ecology on July 1, 2017.

The office’s first meeting with a local board is set for all day Friday, July 7, at the Adna Grange.

The office will work with the local community to implement a long-term strategy to reduce flood damages, restore aquatic species habitat, and administer funding for projects in the Chehalis River basin.

First up, project environmental review

Among its first tasks, the new Chehalis Basin office will conduct a project-level, environmental review of a dam designed to reduce flood damage on the Chehalis River under the State Environmental Policy Act. The review will evaluate potential environmental impacts of different flood damage reduction structures.

We released on June 2 the final programmatic environmental review of the Chehalis Basin Strategy, an umbrella document designed to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of implementing an integrated flood damage reduction and aquatic habitat restoration strategy. It evaluates a variety of potential alternative combinations of local and large scale actions to reduce flood damages and restore aquatic habitat, including building one of two types of dams on the upper Chehalis, moving people and businesses out of the river’s flood plain, and constructing new and raising already-built levies.

The work of the Office of Chehalis Basin will be overseen by the new Chehalis Basin Board – formerly the Governor’s Chehalis Basin Work Group. It is made up of seven members who are appointed by the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, the Governor, the Quinault Indian Nation, and the Chehalis Indian Tribe. The board will conduct its first meeting as a body during a special session on Friday, July 7.

Board meeting topics

The July special board meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Adna Grange Hall, 123 Dieckman Road, in Chehalis. Agenda items include:

  • Tribal perspectives on the Chehalis River basin.
  • Overview of the board’s responsibilities and procedures.
  • Overview of the Chehalis Basin Strategy roadmap and the board’s relationship with other organizations.
  • Funding for the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan.

There will also be time set aside for public comment. Please come and join us as we embark on this important work.