A big day for the White River

Countyline news conference_Josh_Michelle
Josh Baldi, Water and Land Resources Division director, looks at one of the posters at the event with Michelle Clark, Flood Control District executive director.

This is the first of three stories about the Countyline Levee Setback Project. Next week, we’ll post a story about the White River’s geology and a second one about the ecological implications of the setback project.

For nearly two decades, staff members in the Rivers section have been discussing the need to create more room for the sediment-rich White River to meander, a project that would provide much-needed flood protection for the neighboring City of Pacific and habitat restoration for imperiled salmon.

This week, that dream became a reality when the Countyline Levee Setback Project reached substantial completion.

And on Tuesday, under a vibrantly blue sky, the King County Flood Control District and staff from Rivers celebrated the milestone, holding a news conference on top of the new setback levee. Spread behind them was the river’s historical floodplain, a 121-acre swath that will inundate this fall when the rains come and the river rises. In the near-distance, a crew planted native trees and shrubs for the new riparian buffer. A bald eagle occasionally flew overhead.

“It’s hard to think about flooding on a day like today,” Supervisor Reagan Dunn, who chairs the Flood Control District, told several reporters. “But we’ve got to be ready for it.” Especially here at Countyline, he added, where the glacially fed White River is rapidly filling up.

Noting that the project provides both flood protection and salmon habitat, Supervisor Pete von Reichbauer, whose district encompasses Pacific, called the project “a win-win for the community and this incredible region.” Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier beamed when she took to the podium. “This is an extremely exciting day for those of us who live in Pacific,” she said.

Jason Lehto, a habitat restoration specialist with NOAA who spoke on behalf of the trustees for the Thea Foss Waterway Natural Resource Damage Assessment, also hailed the project: “We’re proud to be working on a project that is protecting lives and property. But it also has substantial benefits to salmon and other fish and wildlife species.”

Countyline news conference_Our Team
The project team enjoys a sweet moment at the end of the event. From left, Jeanne Stypula, Chris Brummer, Monica Walker and Stephanie Shelton.

The project was no small feat, in part because it marks the largest Flood Control District project to date: 4,500 linear feet of levee were removed and a new 6,000-foot setback levee was constructed. A 5,000-foot wood structure called a bio-revetment and several engineered logjams were installed to protect the new levee from erosive flood flows. Crews are currently planting 50,000 native plants and shrubs, revegetating an 18-acre riparian buffer – the final piece of this complex puzzle.

But it wasn’t only the scale of the project that made it challenging. The Countyline project was also jurisdictionally complex, involving two counties, federal agencies, two tribal governments and several funding partners. The total cost was $24 million: $17.9 million came from the Flood Control District; $4.8 million from the Thea Foss Waterway Natural Resource Damage Assessment contributing parties; $823,000 from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board and $500,000 from Pierce County.

Jeanne Stypula, managing engineer in Rivers, first started thinking about a setback levee some 20 years ago. Tuesday, after the crowds had dispersed, she smiled at her team. “This has been a really good day,” she said.

Watch the news event video.