TAMING THE RIVER: Grant could kickstart flood mitigation in Stevens County

The Colville River spills its banks in 2017, which is something people in Stevens County have had to deal with on particularly wet years in Northeastern Washington. (Brandon Hansen photo)

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT: Washington’s “Floodplain by Design” grant could provide scaleable project for the Colville Valley…

With the Colville River cutting its way up the valley by the same name, Stevens County has been blessed with agricultural land and a source of water.

However, rivers are double-sided monsters and can sometimes spill over their banks. While dredged early in the 20th century, the Colville River and its tributaries has been known to fill farmer’s fields, wash out roads, flood the Chewelah Park and even shut down Highway 395 for extended periods of time due to water on the roadway.

“We have a lot of farmers along the Colville River that deal with prolonged flooding, which kills crops and prevents access to fields for months at a time,” Natural Resources Planner and VSP Coordinator for Stevens County Land Services Adam Cares said. “We also have opportunities to reduce flood hazards for our communities and improve habitat for fish and wildlife within the floodplain.”

Work by Stevens County, however, could begin to address some of these flooding issues. The county’s “Colville River Floodplain Improvement Project” is now listed at No. 5 in the state’s 20 “Floodplains by Design” grant program. Being so high up the list means it has a better chance of being funded by the state legislature, even if they decide to fund just part of the $70-million state program.

“This is a bottom-up program that would bring local stakeholders together to work on floodplain management” Cares said. “We need to bring a lot of local people to the table to find solutions that make sense in this community and on this part of the river.

The initial project would work towards new solutions to reducing flood risks in the Colville River Watershed. If the program is funded, Stevens County would receive$341,000 toward final design and permitting for a restoration pilot project, floodplain planning and feasibility studies in a five-mile reach, along with watershed-scale floodplain mapping.

The initial project would serve as a starting point for future efforts, and Stevens County would hope to continue to reapply for more funding for each upcoming grant cycle and do more work up and down the valley. The data and research that would go into this pilot project would help the work done in the future as well. “We would want to apply for more funding every biennium,” Cares said. “We hope this first round really kicks off more coordinated floodplain management throughout the watershed.”

The first round of work would focus on a portion of the Colville River south of Chewelah, beginning where the river first crosses Highway 395 near mile marker 203, extending downstream to Alm Lane. The project would seek solutions to keep local farms viable as they have to deal with the sometimes spring occurrence of “Lake Chewelah.” They also want to reduce flood hazards for residents and improve habitat and water quality. The program would include permitting and design for a pilot project that would improve agricultural viability on 220 acres of prime farmland, increase agricultural production by an estimated $156,000 per year, along with creating eight acres of complex riparian habitat along 2,000 feet of the Colville River. The proposed work would also support an estimated five full-time jobs in the area.

“We would be one of the first Floodplains by Design projects on the east side of Washington state,” Cares said. “We want to lay the groundwork with this first project, so that in the future, we can scale this up throughout the watershed. We’re focused on floodplain projects that have multiple benefits, including helping agriculture, helping the community affected by flooding and improving habitat and water quality. Those multi-benefit projects are really where we get the most bang for the buck”