Opinion

Enlarging culverts a band-aid approach to flooding problems

enlarging culverts I take issue with a recent letter from Maxine Keesling blaming King County Surface Water Management for the recurring flooding problems on Hollywood Hill by not enlarging culverts.
   First, let me say that as a longtime advocate in promoting the concept of watershed protection as a means of achieving a balance between land development and preservation of natural areas and habitat, I am no stranger to the frustrations involved in dealing with public agencies, and SWM is no exception.
   But one thing I learned early on is that it is convenient and easy to verbally beat up on agencies such as SWM and its staff while continuing to ignore root causes. It seems to me that SWM's role has been, as often is the case, reactionary to the flooding problems at Hollywood Hill. But they are not the cause.
   Enlarging culverts is a band-aid approach and only serves to move the problem downstream, destroying stream habitat and magnifying the damaging effects along the way. During the last flooding event, there were five places along the Sammamish River Trail where the slough had over-topped the banks (which, historically, it used to do with regularity, but that's another story), putting the trail at risk of being washed out. All this water came from places like Hollywood Hill and Issaquah, where upstream development is responsible in part for the massive flooding incurred there.
   The point is, fixing the problem by shunting the water away is not going to solve anything, it only moves it somewhere else where the impact may be more severe and costly to repair.
   So how shall we spend our money? Shall we spend a little here and there on projects such as enlarging culverts at Hollywood Hill so that we can send the water downstream, giving us the assured opportunity to spend multiple millions later trying to reverse the damage from flooding and loss of salmon (and other) habitat, usually with limited success?
   That does not sound like a very good investment to me, especially when we consider that once incurred, these economical and environmental costs will be with us for as long as there is water falling from the sky.
   Enlarging culverts is an easy but short-sighted approach to flood control. The more difficult and yet more effective and sustainable method for the future is for the residents of Hollywood Hill to work with agencies like SWM in taking care of their own little slice of the Puget Sound ecosystem--their neighborhood watershed and stream system. It makes good sense both economically and ecologically.
   A good start would be for people to look around their neighborhood at the roads, rooftops, disproportionate amount of semi-impervious lawns, and downspouts that seem to just disappear into the ground, and answer this question: where does the water go?

Brian Bodenbach, Seattle