Rethink a Middle Fork dam
May 5, 2009 · 2:35 PM
My letter is a response to the series of letters, most notably from Mr. Reid (Wednesday, April 15) and Mr. Lund (Wednesday, April 22) regarding putting a flood control dam on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie to try to quell flooding.
I would ask the citizens of the Valley to first really check their geography, meteorology and history.
The Snoqualmie River and its three forks drain almost 700 square miles of mountainous and valley terrain. The river flows northwesterly until it joins up with the Snohomish River and eventually empties into the Puget Sound at Everett.
We receive about 92 inches of precipitation each year in the mountains that feed into our Snoqualmie Basin. Most of the rain falls during the winter months, bringing our traditional flooding.
A Middle Fork dam already has been discussed, proposed, debated and rejected. Ask the locals that are true locals — they will tell you about the flood of 1959. It was devastating. The community went to the federal government to see about minimizing floods. Public hearings reflected some local support for a project proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But then the environmental movement took place, and an attitude of living with nature, not fighting against it, arose. In 1968, King County passed a $100 million transit, park and open space bond, which helped raise opposition to preserve the Snoqualmie Basin as the wild river it is. Most of the argument centered on the fact that a Middle Fork dam would create a false environment for urban and industrial development that would eventually endanger development and destroy the agricultural greenbelt that exists in the Valley.
All this means that the regular floods have led to very little development. Our floodplain here is the last open space in the Greater Seattle Metro Area. The city of North Bend is all over this with their goal to target the outdoor enthusiast with their recent slogan development aimed at that market. Ask any resident of our Valley — most will tell you they live here because of its beauty. That beauty is here because the residents 40 years ago said “No!” to the dam.
Proponents of such a project should look to the folks in the Green River and White River Valleys. Both have flood control dams on the rivers they live by, but they are not safe from flooding.
Case in point, ask the people of Pacific. They were flooded in the bad storm this past January. They built their homes 10 feet from the dynamic White River. There’s no levee. Mother Nature proved her point that you cannot control her, despite Mud Mountain Dam’s capabilities. The folks of Pacific got a rude awakening. Mother Nature said clearly, “You live in a flood plain!”
It is seemingly less expensive to endure flooding, potential damage and associated costs, if we develop and build appropriately, than to construct, operate and maintain a dam.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is moving to block any and all developments in flood plains. A Middle Fork dam would likely not get off the ground, even if it passed the Environmental Study Assessment, which would be highly unlikely, given all of the endangered species such as orca, chinook, and so on, that could be even remotely impacted by a dam.
The people of the Snoqualmie Valley would be better served by continuing to live in a manner that shows cooperation with nature, not trying to control it. We need to be prepared. We need to continue to have our flood insurance, have evacuation plans, and build homes set back from the river or high above on stilts and keep a canoe at the ready.
During the January flooding, even King County Executive Ron Sims admitted that the folks in the Snoqualmie Valley understand better about where we live and the risk we assume by living here. He was in Pacific and said that, unlike the Snoqualmie Valley where floods are frequent and cities are prepared to respond, Pacific doesn’t have the resources to meet the urgent need of its residents.
All we can truly do is be prepared to respond. Damming doesn’t solve the problem. It only damns us to new ones.