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New Dam Proposed for Chehalis River (WA): Take Action and Comment

Posted: 04/02/2020
By: Thomas O'Keefe

The Chehalis River has one of Washington state's longest continuous sections of Class III whitewater, yet it remains relatively unknown to many paddlers due to access issues involving restrictive policies of a private timber company. A new flood control dam proposal would eliminate 14 miles of this wild and free-flowing Class III whitewater (West Fork to Pe Ell), forever keeping paddlers from discovering this underused trove of quality whitewater in southwestern Washington. 

Paddlers and other river enthusiasts have an opportunity to provide input on the fate of the Chehalis River by submitting a comment on their Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Take this opportunity to comment and help protect this free-flowing river today! Take Action Today


The Chehalis is well known for its wild salmon and steelhead runs as well as its history of devastating floods. This dam proposal is part of an effort to reduce future flood damage by the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District. In eliminating 14 miles of Class III whitewater near the town of Pe Ell, the Chehalis River may never be known for its whitewater. The state has identified the permanent loss of this whitewater run as a, "significant and unavoidable adverse environmental impact," and has determined that there is no mitigation that can replace the lost whitewater. Additional significant adverse impacts include degradation of fish habitat and a reduction in fish populations, water quality impacts, changes to natural river processes, greenhouse gas emissions, wetland alterations, and elimination of wildlife habitat. And the economic impact is just as staggering: the dam's estimated cost is nearly one billion dollars!

The impacts and cost are high, yet the benefits of the proposed dam are comparatively small. The dam will not stop floods, and the areas that have been heavily impacted by past floods will continue to experience significant flooding. The proposed project won't generate hydropower, won't store water for irrigation use, and won't provide any recreation opportunities. In short, the project is an expensive and ill-conceived effort to address a complex problem that can't be solved by a new dam.

Our vision is for a river that remains free-flowing and is accessible to the public.

The State of Washington should cease efforts to dam the Chehalis. Instead, it should focus on enhancing natural floodplain storage capacity, provide mitigation and assistance to landowners in the floodplain, discourage new floodplain development, and improve opportunities for the public to use and enjoy private forest lands for recreation. Healthy rivers, vibrant fish runs, and outdoor recreation are keystones to the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest. We should be seeking ways to secure these values for the future while addressing the issues of flooding and fisheries declines.

We encourage American Whitewater members and all who love rivers to comment on this ill-conceived project before the state's May 27th deadline. If you have been fortunate enough to paddle the Chehalis River, please be sure to include your personal insights on this irreplaceable whitewater resource.

To learn more:

  • Review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement; the 19 page Summary Document and Appendix J covering recreation are particularly relevant.
  • American Whitewater is a member of the Chehalis River Alliance, a coalition of concerned citizens sovereign tribes, and local organizations invested in protecting the Chehalis River Basin.
  • Public Hearings have been modified to an Online Events and will take place on April 2nd and April 21st. We encourage those who are interested in sign up to join the webinar and learn more.
  • Watch the trailer for the forthcoming film Chehalis: A Watershed Moment.

Take Action Today

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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Associated Projects


American Whitewater is committed to the stewardship and conservation of the Chehalis River where a new dam is proposed.

Associated Rivers

Chehalis, E. Fork WA
Chehalis, W. Fork WA
Chehalis WA


Chehalis River Proposed Dam Comments (5/27/2020)

American Whitewater Comments on Washington State Department of Ecology’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project

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