Equitable flood navigation in the Chehalis Basin

Equitable flood navigation in the Chehalis Basin

Conservation Northwest / Aug 29, 2022 / Cascades to Olympics, Connecting Habitat

University of Washington students from the Grand Challenges Impact Lab (GCIL) developed a robust report for increased representation and advocacy for low-income residents of the Chehalis Basin.

SEATTLE, Wash. – Mentoring students and fostering innovative thinking around complex problems to identify the most holistic solutions is a fundamental part of our Cascades to Olympics Program conserving and connecting habitat in southwest Washington. Applying these roles as a member of the Local-Action-Non-dam Alternative (LAND) Steering committee (seeking non-dam solutions to flooding in the Chehalis Basin), has led to a great collaboration with students from the University of Washington’s Grand Challenges Impact Lab Seattle 2022 program.

UW grand challenges impact lab student's provide equitable framework for Chehalis Basin.

A major new dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell, Washington, would harm salmon and steelhead runs and destroy important habitat.

One aspect of the flood mitigation proposals and policies being offered in the Chehalis Basin is a lack of built-in measures designed to promote equitable solutions throughout the Chehalis Basin Strategy. In order to better understand what is missing and what could be done to improve the situation, four students researched, analyzed and developed a framework to address issues of equity as communities seek to mitigate flood damage throughout the basin. Please read the attached report to learn more.

Big thanks to the authors for this paper: Riis Williams, Dania Dehne, Emma Cunningham, Hunter Jimenez.


Over the past 10 weeks, we have had the privilege of interviewing several different people who are involved with the Chehalis Basin Strategy. We quickly learned from them that seasonal flooding has been a long-lasting natural feature of the Basin that is now being severely exacerbated by global climate change and increased land use and development. Now more than ever, the Basin is seeing a longer and more severe flooding season — a problem deeply felt by the region’s most vulnerable residents. Centrally located between Portland and Seattle, the Chehalis Basin has recently become a popular spot for Oregonians and Washingtonians hoping to escape the city life to relocate. This migration influx has driven the development of housing in the floodplain — housing that is most commonly targeted toward and occupied by low-income tenants. The “Grand Challenge” that we tackled this quarter is perhaps the greatest current threat known to humankind. Understanding and combating climate change starts with learning how the evolving climate is impacting local communities differently. Working with Brian Stewart, Cascades to Olympics Program manager at Conservation Northwest and Local Actions Non-Dam Alternative Steering group member with the Chehalis Basin Strategy, we have spent the last 9 weeks getting to learn about the geography of the Chehalis Basin and how residents living in its floodplain are impacted by seasonal flooding. Lately, the development of climate change has resulted in a longer and more severe flooding season in the Basin, and residents, community planners, local officials, and workers at the Strategy are fighting to find the most equitable solutions.

Read the full report, visit the new Chehalis Basin Local Actions Non-Dam Alternatives (LAND) website, or learn more about the Cascades to Olympics program.