FEBRUARY 24, 1997
Sen. Slade Gorton (right) visited the cities suffering from flooding in the Snoqualmie Valley, visiting Steve Foster (center), whose dairy continues to feel the effects of the Tolt River's fluctuations. Joining Gorton, from the left, are State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner (R-45th) and State Rep. Bill Backlund (R-45th).
Photo Jeff Switzer/Northwest News.
by Jeff Switzer, senior staff reporter
SNOQUALMIE VALLEY--The endemic flooding of the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers continues, responding to very little rainfall in ways which damage property and isolate homes and people.
With more than $2.5 billion in unallocated FEMA disaster relief up for grabs between 40 states, Sen. Slade Gorton joined local representatives in assessing flooding problems in the Snoqualmie Valley last week.
"I came to see firsthand the effects of the flooding and to see that the federal agencies (FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers) are carrying out their jobs," Sen. Gorton said, adding that with 40 states declaring formal emergencies, the next challenge is balancing environmental protections while protecting people and property.
Carnation Mayor Jack Stein addressed Sen. Gorton, King County Councilmember Louise Miller, State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, and State Rep. Bill Backlund, thanking them for their time and attention to the growing problems of flooding in the Snoqualmie Valley and outlined the course of action proposed by the Snoqualmie Valley Cities Association to lessen the severity of flooding.
"After studying the terrain of North Bend to Duvall, our plan outlines specific sites where it will be beneficial to harvest and remove rock to help redefine our river channels," Stein said. "We must also continue our efforts and commitments to keep the current levies maintained and secure."
Stein also said the Association will be targeting rubble and sand gravel bars which have altered the waterway and created unstable and irregular pathways for the river flows.
"While removing the river gravel, we must also remove the sand and gravel bars so that the water can return to its originally defined and intended path," Stein said.
But the dredging proposal is one suggested by area residents after the 1990 flood, noting that dredging the river channels regularly keeps the flows in the beds. Without dredging, many say the effect is accelerated because flows are increased causing sediment and debris to be transported downstream more quickly. That proposal reached former Governor Lowry's desk and was vetoed.
Levies built with FEMA funds at risk
The first stop on the tour was three and a half miles outside of town near Peter Hauck's home, where five families pooled $10,000 in FEMA dollars to construct a levy to keep their road open and free of water from the Tolt.
"We lost our levy in the 1990 flood," said Hauck, a resident for 22 years, who has been battling with King County's surface water management. He says the county won't help alleviate the constant flooding by repairing the levy and denies it was ever there.
Now, that levy which keeps the road open and several homes connected to the outside world is prohibited from being repaired because it alters the course of the river, and the balance between people and the environment swings the other way.
Another local resident, Laura Bailey, argues that the proposed dredging would solve the problem and improve fish runs, but will be opposed by the state fisheries' department because they allege it will destroy the salmon runs.
"When they quit dredging, the faster currents took the loose debris, taking away the better and stronger places for egg laying," Bailey said. "Ten years ago you could see steelhead on the Tolt, but not today."
Bailey said even the two inches of rain which fell on Valentine's Day was enough to push the flows to more than one-third of the 1990 flood. "It's not going to be long before downtown Carnation is flooded," she added.
Critter pads not a solution
The tour also stopped at the evacuation route for when the Tolt floods the area, and Steve Foster's dairy, which was hard-hit by the 1990 flood and took years to get back to normal, if persistent flooding was normal.
"I bought the house from my father in 1984," and there was never any flooding, Foster said, "until 1990, then there was eight inches in the house."
Foster used disaster funds to build critter pads above the flood plain for his 200 cows, and while he appreciates having them as an emergency measure, "they aren't a solution by any means. The Tolt is getting more water faster and that leads to runoff."
The Tolt River runs west to the Snoqualmie River, and with more sediment causing faster flows and transporting sediment to where the two meet, problems at the mouth and further down the valley are compounded.
"I am not aware of any other cities or districts within the State of Washington who have studied this issue so extensively or who have a flood hazard reduction plan which is currently in place over such a large area," Stein said. "This plan should be viewed as a model for the rest of the state. Much work still needs to be done, but together as a group, we remain committed to seeing this plan successfully implemented."