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Governor Inslee Directs State Agencies to Cease Chehalis Dam Efforts (WA)

Posted: 07/25/2020
by Thomas O'Keefe

This past week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee directed Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Chehalis Basin Board to cease planning efforts and environmental review of a proposed new dam on the Chehalis River and instead develop and present a basin-wide, non-dam alternative to flood damage reduction.

American Whitewater appreciates the Governor's decision that is responsive to concerns we raised throughout the environmental review process. We also appreciate the leadership role of the Quinault Indian Nation and Chehalis Tribe in opposing the dam and calling for alternative solutions that enhance rather than further diminish salmon populations.

We argued that impacts and costs of the dam would be high, while the "benefits" would be comparatively small. In addition to impacts on salmon habitat, tribal resources, and overall river health that would have been degraded with construction of a dam on the Chehalis River, recreational opportunities on the river would have been lost. In environmental review documents, the state acknowledged that a new dam on the Chehalis River would result in a "significant and unavoidable" adverse environmental impact to recreation with "permanent loss of use of 13.8 miles of the Chehalis River for kayaking and whitewater boating and 12.8 miles of riverbank for recreational fishing." The dam proposal represented a 19th century approach to a problem that requires 21st century solutions that applies modern science and a current understanding of ecosystem function. We appreciate that the Governor has recognized this.

Letter from Governor directing the Chehalis Basin Board to develop and evaluate a basin-wide non-dam alternative to reducing flood damage.

Letter from Governor to state agencies directing development of a non-dam alternative to flood control.

Background 

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 proposed flood control dam would have eliminated 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. 

American Whitewater's vision for the Chehalis River is that remain free-flowing and be made more accessible to the public.

We asked the state to focus on enhancing natural floodplain storage capacity, providing mitigation and assistance to landowners in the floodplain, discouraging new floodplain development, and improving 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. The new directive from the Governor calls for greater engagement with tribes and challenges all of us to find ways to secure these values for the future while addressing the issues of flooding and fisheries declines. American Whitewater looks forward to remaining an engaged participant in this dialogue.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012


Associated Projects

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

Associated Rivers

Chehalis WA
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