Ecology's Floodplain by Design Program

9/26/2014  By Alex Conley - YBFWRB

Some of our best salmon recovery projects are really multi-benefits projects- projects that restore fish and wildlife habitat, and also reduce flood risks to local communities, protect vital infrastructure like highways and municipal water supplies, and create recreational opportunities. Most of these multi-benefit projects focused on reworking 20th century flood control infrastructure for the 21st century.

Too often we get trapped in “levee disease” where a hodge-podge of old levees and constrictions such as narrow bridge openings force the river to drop its sediment load, raising the river bed and forcing levees to be rebuilt ever higher. The result are increased flood risk and high maintenance costs. When old levees are breached or set back, and constrictions in the floodplain are removed, there is more room for floodwaters to spread out and loose their energy. That means less damage to roads and houses and businesses. It also means more room for a river to be a river, and develop the dynamic and diverse floodplain habitats our salmon, steelhead and lamprey runs have always depended on.

Both the Yakima County Flood Control Zone District and the new Flood Control Zone District for Kittitas County are focusing on developing these kinds of multi-benefit programs. They’ve been able to use their tax base to fund initial planning and coordination and get things rolling, but they rely on additional funding sources to get these big projects done on the ground. That funding is not always easy to find!

The funding source the Yakima Basin Fish & Wildlife Recovery Board works most closely with - the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB) grant program- focuses specifically on the fish benefits of a project, and grants are not large enough to cover many of these big projects. 

Luckily, there is now a new player in town - the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Floodplain by Design Program. It was created by the legislature in 2013. While the initial focus was on projects in Puget Sound, the first round of funding provided $10.9 million for Statewide Floodplain Management and Control Grants. 5 of the 13 funded projects from the statewide pot are in the Yakima Basin, and these projects are going to construction as I write. 

The Department is now reviewing final proposals for 2015-2017 projects, and has requested $50 million of state funding to pay for them. Now it’s up to the legislature to decide how much funding to provide for the statewide Floodplain by Design Program. We’re hoping many of the 30 projects selected by Ecology- including the 6 proposals under review for the Yakima Basin- are funded in 2015.

With the Floodplain by Design Program, we’ve now got a complimentary statewide funding source that focuses on the flood risk and infrastructure protection parts of big multi-benefit projects. That’s not all. These projects are also highlighted in the Habitat Subcommittee’s list of priorities to be funded as part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. The Department of Ecology is asking for $5 million in funding for the Habitat Subcommittee projects in the next biennium. By combining SRFB funding, Floodplain by Design funding, the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and other sources, proponents are able to fund big multiple-benefit projects none of them could support on their own.

Together, all of these sources can turn plans for big multi-benefit projects into realities. Perhaps then, when we have our next big flood, the newspaper headlines will be about all the benefits to fish habitat, and the insurance adjusters will wonder why they’re not getting lots of calls about flood damage!

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