Take action for a free-flowing Chehalis River in the Cascades to Olympics corridor

Take action for a free-flowing Chehalis River in the Cascades to Olympics corridor

ConservationNWAdmin / Apr 29, 2020 / Action Alert, Cascades to Olympics

WILD NW Action Alert #301: Through May 27, submit a comment in opposition to the proposed Chehalis Dam that would threaten fish and wildlife.

The Chehalis River Basin is the second-largest watershed in Washington, and is home to vibrant local communities, productive farms, and wildlife ranging from Roosevelt elk and fishers to black-tailed deer and cougars. The Chehalis and its tributaries are also the spawning grounds of some of the only wild salmon runs in our state that remain healthy enough to not be protected under the Endangered Species Act, for now.

A Chinook salmon, one of several species of wild salmon as well as steelhead that return to the Chehalis River. Photo: UW

An important landscape in our Cascades to Olympics program, the Chehalis Basin contains key wildlife corridors that allow species to move between the Cascade Mountains, Willapa Hills and Olympic Peninsula.

A proposal to build a massive dam on the Chehalis River in southwest Washington would severely threaten this ecosystem and degrade critical fish and wildlife habitat.

Please take action by May 27 using our simple form, or copy our suggested comments below and submit them on this webpage!

Decades of development in the floodplain, widespread logging in the upper watershed, and other human-made changes to the Chehalis Basin have contributed to major flooding in recent years, impacting local communities and farmers, even periodically closing Interstate 5.

To address this issue, the state Office of Chehalis Basin, administered by the Washington Department of Ecology in coordination with the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Quinault Indian Nation and the Washington Department of Fish of Wildlife, has been studying how to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic ecosystems.

The proposed Chehalis Dam site in southwest Washington. Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers

The Chehalis Basin Flood Control Zone District, led by Lewis County, has proposed the Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project, and the Office of Chehalis Basin is now accepting public comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Essentially, this is a proposal to build a large dam on the upper Chehalis River, near the town of Pe Ell.

Though described by proponents as a “temporary” flood retention facility used only during extreme floods, this project would destroy hundreds of acres of quality forest, riparian habitat and wetlands. Additionally, the area where the dam is proposed contains important spawning grounds for Chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead, and its construction would cause significant impacts to water quality and river dynamics, negatively impacting these species in the Chehalis River and the people who depend on them.

This proposed dam would irreversibly disrupt the migratory corridors wildlife use to find food, mates, and seek new habitat as the climate changes. In fact, scientifically-driven maps by the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group show the dam will be placed in the middle of one the largest “naturalness” linkages in the Chehalis Basin, see below.

TAKE ACTION OR KEEP SCROLLING FOR SUGGESTED COMMENTS. Read more about opposition to the dam from the Quinault Indian Nation and Chehalis Tribes.
Additional perspectives are also available at chehalisriveralliance.org
The proposed Chehalis Dam site would be placed in the middle of one of the largest “naturalness” linkages in the Chehalis Basin, disrupting wildlife movement.

A different approach needed

Along with our allies, we at Conservation Northwest recognize that flooding creates significant impacts for residents, towns, agriculture and transportation.

As a resident of Lewis County, I appreciate and have seen firsthand the need for action in the Chehalis Basin. While a massive new dam is unacceptable, so is the status quo. The projected impacts of climate change in the Basin on fish, wildlife, people and infrastructure make it clear we need to do things differently in the future. 

The Chehalis Basin is important habitat for Roosevelt elk as well as fishers, marbled murrelets, and other species.                        Photo: Chase Gunnell

We call for a hard look at the dam design and more innovative thinking about how to reduce flooding while protecting and restoring vital habitats and meeting the needs of fish, wildlife, agriculture and local communities, including the Quinault Indian Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. When both the proposed action and the no action alternatives have unacceptable impacts to people and the ecosystems that support us, its a clear indication that its time to go back to the drawing board.

Please use your voice to protect the vitality of the Chehalis River, and keep its waters free-flowing and healthy. Together, we can create common-ground solutions that benefit local communities and the fish and wildlife of the Chehalis Basin.

Submit your comment today and tell the Office of Chehalis Basin you support strategies that restore forests, floodplains and habitat—not a destructive dam.

Thank you,

Brian Stewart,
Cascades to Olympics Program Representative
Lewis County, Washington

Suggested comments on the proposed Chehalis River Dam DEIS

To the Chehalis Basin Flood Control District:

I’m writing to provide my input on the state’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project. I do not support the proposed strategy to build a large dam on the Chehalis River. This project would destroy hundreds of acres of quality forest, riparian habitat, and wetlands, and degrade important spawning grounds for Chinook and coho salmon as well as steelhead, Washington’s beleaguered State Fish.

Rivers like the Chehalis and Skookumchuck and the lush riparian areas surrounding them act as highways for the diverse wildlife living in the Chehalis Basin. These highways allow animals to move around, find food and mates, and seek new habitat as our climate changes. Scientists have identified connections between Washington’s South Cascades, Willapa Hills and Olympic Peninsula as beneficial for a wide range of species, especially in the face of climate change.

The proposed dam would irreversibly disrupt these animal highways. The current Draft EIS fails to analyze impacts to the migratory routes and connected habitats wildlife need at all, let alone propose how they could be mitigated. Building and operating the Flood Retention Facility and reservoir would also put additional pressures on Endangered species like the marbled murrelet, as well as threaten sensitive amphibians and other small wildlife; animals that are already experiencing unprecedented impacts from other sources of habitat degradation.

While a massive new dam is unacceptable, neither is the status quo. I support collaboration with local residents, tribes and other stakeholders to develop alternative strategies that support flood mitigation and local communities while also restoring forests, floodplains and habitat. Because most of the largest flood damages that the proposed dam would prevent come in the late century scenarios, we have some time to get this right.

Please address the impacts a proposed dam would have on migratory routes and habitat connectivity, as well as develop flood reduction and habitat restoration actions that do not include building a large dam. The current and future problems from floods in the Chehalis Basin are a results of many decades of human building, land management, and transportation patterns. As the Draft EIS demonstrates well, climate change-fueled storms only add to the size of the problem. We need out-of-the box solutions that don’t force unacceptable trade-offs for fish, wildlife and people.

Thank you.

You can also copy and paste comments INTO THIS FORM through may 27. Learn more about our Cascades to Olympics program, or COMMENTS on the Chehalis basin Aquatic species restoration plan.
The Chehalis River from above. Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers