Take action in the ongoing fight for a free-flowing Chehalis River in southwest Washington

Take action in the ongoing fight for a free-flowing Chehalis River in southwest Washington

ConservationNWAdmin / Nov 03, 2020 / Action Alert, Cascades to Olympics

WILD NW ACTION ALERT #308: Through November 17, speak out against a proposal to build a massive dam on the Chehalis River.

The Chehalis River Basin 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.

Take action to protect fish, wildlife, and communities in the Chehalis Basin!

The Chehalis Basin is one of the last strongholds of wild steelhead, Washington’s State Fish and a threatened species across much of their range. This large wild steelhead was caught and released in the Chehalis Basin. Photo: Chase Gunnell

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.

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 Chehalis Basin Flood Control Zone District has proposed to build a large dam on the upper Chehalis River, which would severely threaten this ecosystem and degrade critical fish and wildlife habitat.

Earlier this year, we submitted organizational comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to the Department of Ecology and the Chehalis Basin Board. We also asked you to submit our suggested public comments—THANK YOU to the nearly 800 people who took action!

Your voice makes a great difference, as we witnessed in July when Governor Jay Inslee called for a non-dam alternative to flood reduction in the Chehalis Basin.

But the SEPA DEIS was only the first phase of the ongoing proposal to build what is essentially a large dam on the upper Chehalis River, near the town of Pe Ell. The second phase of this proposal is for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) DEIS, and we need you to speak out against this plan once again!

Speak up for fish, wildlife and communities in the Chehalis Basin!

The proposed Chehalis Dam site would be placed in the middle of one of the largest “naturalness” linkages in the Chehalis Basin, disrupting wildlife (Gallo et al. 2020). Click for a larger version!

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 show the dam will be placed in the middle of one the largest “naturalness” linkages in the Chehalis Basin.

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

Finding a Real Alternative:

The Chehalis River from above. Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers

The findings in the NEPA DEIS only highlight the myriad of permanent and unavoidable damage a dam will do to the river and the riparian corridor. Furthermore, because NEPA fails to address climate change in a meaningful way, it seriously underestimates the impacts of the dam, the future conditions of the river, and future conditions throughout the Basin. These failings coupled with impacts identified in the NEPA DEIS make one thing clear: now is not the time to build new dams on rivers. Now is the time to find ways to live alongside rivers sustainably and safely.

Fortunately, the Governor’s requested local actions alternative is the pathway that both the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis and the Quinault Indian Nation have been asking for, as well as recreation and conservation groups and local residents. We support a solution that is specific and includes detailed actions to address flood damage reduction in communities throughout the Basin. We’d also like to see a plan that compliments the ongoing actions and goals identified in the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan and the Community Flood Assistance and Resilience program.

Please ensure your voice is heard by taking action on behalf of fish, wildlife and communities in the Chehalis Basin using our simple form, or by copying and pasting our suggested comments below into the web comment form or an email to the Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Suggested Comments on NEPA DEIS for the proposed Chehalis Dam

To the Army Corps of Engineers and Anchor QEA:

RE: Applicant: Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District (NWS-2014-1118)

I am writing to provide my input on the Federal (NEPA) 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. Furthermore, the lack of climate change modeling in the NEPA DEIS, coupled with the lack of alternatives offered in the document, suggests the Corps and federal partners have not done enough in the NEPA DEIS to gain my support since the release of the SEPA DEIS.

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 the ongoing collaborative efforts of the Chehalis Basin Board, Tribes, and other stakeholders in developing an alternative strategy that supports flood mitigation and local communities while also restoring forests, floodplains, and habitat.

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 result of many decades of human building, land management, and transportation patterns. We need out-of-the box solutions that do not force unacceptable trade-offs for fish, wildlife, and people.

Thank you.

Thank you for TAKING ACTION before November 17! Visit our Cascades to Olympics program webpage more information and resources on the Chehalis Basin.
Please Speak up for fish, wildlife and communities in the Chehalis Basin! Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers