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King County to Residents: Dam…

August 27, 2009

Most of us don’t know diddly about the Green River but it’s time for a crash course.  You’re not alone in your ignorance; it didn’t become relevant for me until it became my neighbor about 6 years ago.  On foot, it’s 5 minutes- 2 by car.  It’s one of my favorite places to walk.  It also feeds ponds and small lakes all around this area.  In heavy rains, the waters rise and the majesty turns ominous.

All told the river is 65 miles long and has one of the most historically informative wiki pages I’ve ever read.

Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and Renton all have valleys which run north to south, just like the river.  If you’re not in Skyway or the Highlands, you’re in the valley.  If you’re not on East Hill or on the Des Moines side, you’re in the valley…with the river.  These areas already flood in heavy rains without the river in play.

The reason folks know a potentially catastrophic flood is coming, is because there is a problem with the Howard Hanson Dam, which sits on the river about 20 miles east of Auburn.  From the dam website:

The Army Corps of Engineers has notified the City of Auburn of a situation at the Howard Hanson Dam which may require the release of more water than usual during extreme rain events.

Sidebar- whenever I hear or see the words “Army Corps of Engineers”, sirens, alarms, bells and whistles go off in my head, post Katrina.  The ACoE owns and operates the HHD.

The “situation” is 2 fold- First, the dam and critical areas around the damn have suffered damage over the years that has gone without repair (oh, we’ll get to that in a second).

Next, there is seepage; water is getting through around the dam.  Think about that for a second.  Again, Katrina.  The heavier the rain, the more water behind the dam, the more water seeps through- simply can’t have that.  It’s too much pressure.  To alleviate that pressure, the plan is to lower the water level in the reservoir ahead of the rainy season and release more water than usual during heavy rains.  The priority here is the integrity of the dam, period.  To protect it, the ACoE has decided it’s best to induce a flood.  Brilliant!

Why haven’t regular repairs done?  Again from the website:

Due to the complex nature of water management and flood control, there are many state and federal regulations currently in place that prohibit local jurisdictions from addressing some of the immediate concerns on the Green River.

Issues surround the ability of local jurisdictions to remove debris from the river, dredging and shoring up levees. In order to do any of these activities, there is an extensive review and permitting process that must take place that often take months or years to complete.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently seeking funding for the necessary repairs at the Howard Hanson Dam. At this point, there appears to be little funding for these repairs. If you would like to write your elected officials regarding the issues of funding and regulation, you can find your legislator here.

Translation: If the water doesn’t kill you, the red tape will- and don’t blame us, blame the government.

Frikken great.

Who is responsible for making sure we don’t all drown?

The King County Flood Control District was established in April, 2007 by ordinance 15728 of the Metropolitan King County Council to protect public health and safety, regional economic centers, public and private properties and transportation corridors. The newly created district will be instrumental in addressing the backlog of maintenance and repairs to levees and revetments, acquiring repetitive loss properties and other at-risk floodplain properties, and improving countywide flood warning and flood prediction capacity.

What has this oversight entity done for King County residents?  They sent a flier to 150k homes and businesses urging folks to make sure that flood protection is a part of their insurance plan- well, at least I think they did, I never got anything in the mail.  They’ve sent a flier (perhaps) and they’ve had meetings.  County Council is “considering” a door-to-door effort to inform residents of the situation…considering.

Then this little nibble in the news today:

King County Executive Kurt Triplett will ask the County Council for $10 million to $35 million to protect and possibly evacuate jail inmates, courts, animal shelter and county offices in the flood-prone Green River valley.

Some offices, including election headquarters on Southwest Grady Way in Renton, may be permanently moved to a new location.

That means the river is expected to flood for miles.  Not a few blocks.  Miles.

Hat tip to Executive Triplet- he is working with local and federal government to get a disaster declared now, so that money and resources aren’t delayed once the flooding hits.

It’s another signal that this is going to be bad.  How much water are we talking?  Could be 4-10 feet.  Could be 15-20 or more.  Unfortunately no one can predict how much it’s going to rain here this year.  The more rain, the worse the flooding.

It is not an exaggeration to say the impending flood could be as disastrous for the aforementioned areas as Katrina was for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  We are looking at potentially billions of dollars of damage to homes and a hit against the local economy that could hit 50 million a day during the recovery effort.  As if economic times weren’t hard enough…

We need more than a few tips on homeowners insurance- we need a plan.

That’s what I want to hear next week at King County’s public meeting.

Green River flood safety:
Public information meeting

Wednesday, September 9, 2009
6:00 – 6:30 p.m. Open House
6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Presentation
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. Q & A Session

Green River Community College Main Campus
Lindbloom Student Center – Cascade Room
12401 SE 320th Street
Auburn, WA 98092
Driving directions

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 8:27 pm

    Wow, sis. I am floored by this post. By the way, EXCELLENT post. It’s the most concise thing I’ve seen yet. I am glad I am out of that area, butI still feel terrible for the folks that are. As if Green River wasn’t bad enough.

  2. fair enough permalink
    September 3, 2009 11:57 pm

    I love your posts here and on Publicola, but this time I disagree. You lay the responsibility on the King County Flood District. But the dam is the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers. They are the ones who have failed to maintain the infrastructure of this country. Since Reagan came into office and said government shouldn’t help people we have had almost 30 years of tax breaks for the rich and huge military budgets while we have allowed the country to decay. Our roads, bridges, dams, levees and more are all in critical condition. And now we are fucking broke.

    The federal government dammed our rivers and now they say they can’t afford to fix the dam. The Flood District was actually formed to fix the levees in the Kent Valley and other places where the federal government had already walked away from responsibility for them. At the time nobody knew the Corps had allowed the dam to get in such bad shape. That news came out last year. Since then the Flood District and the County Council have worked hard to push for funding and to make plans to help people if a flood happens.

  3. Sable permalink
    September 4, 2009 12:03 am

    Yup- agree with the clarity of your points all the way.


  1. Pt 2: King County to Residents- Dam… « The Sable Verity

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