Extinction is not an option: Quinault Nation opposes dam proposed on Chehalis River

Extinction is not an option: Quinault Nation opposes dam proposed on Chehalis River

Conservation Northwest / Apr 16, 2020 / Cascades to Olympics, News Releases

Nation calls for credible alternative to reduce flood damage throughout the Chehalis Basin

The following is a news release from the Quinault Indian Nation. Additional perspective is available in this breaking Lewis County Chronicle article and this Seattle Times article

Conservation Northwest is deeply grateful to the Quinault Nation, Chehalis Tribe, and others for their leadership in scrutinizing this dam proposal in southwest Washington. 

We also suggest visiting this website or following Quinault Indian Nation – Environmental Defense on Facebook for updates. 

April 16, 2020

Taholah, WA
– The Quinault Indian Nation today announced its opposition to a proposed dam on the upper Chehalis River near the town of Pe Ell in Lewis County. The Nation’s opposition is based on scientific and technical analysis made by the Washington State Dept. of Ecology that concludes construction of the dam would result in catastrophic harm to salmon. As a signatory to the Treaty of Olympia (1856) the Quinault Nation is the only Tribe with Treaty reserved rights to fish, hunt and gather in the Chehalis Basin.

The Chehalis River near Pel Ell, Washington. A major new dam on this river would harm salmon and steelhead runs and destroy important habitat. Photo: WA Department of Ecology

The Dept. of Ecology’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) scientifically affirmed the Nation’s concerns about the dam in concluding it would have unavoidable impacts on salmon because it cannot yet be determined whether mitigation is technically feasible and economically practicable.

Based on its evaluation of the state environmental study, the Nation believes the dam would virtually guarantee local extinction of spring Chinook and accelerate the decline of Coho, fall Chinook and Steelhead runs.

“Fishing for salmon to nourish and provide for our families is at the core of what it means to be Quinault and is a Treaty right we had to fight for decades to exercise. Extinction is not an option,” said Quinault Nation Vice President Tyson Johnston. “We are not strangers to the devastating impacts of flooding on communities, infrastructure and safety so we remain committed to finding solutions that reduce the threat of catastrophic floods for the most at-risk communities.”

The proposed dam is being considered as part of Washington State’s Chehalis Basin Strategy, whose mission is to both reduce flood damage and restore aquatic species throughout the Chehalis Basin.

The DEIS’ superficial description and lack of analysis of an alternative to the dam underscores the Quinault Nation’s long-standing concern that the state’s Chehalis Basin Strategy has focused too much on the dam for flood damage reduction at the expense of developing a credible alternative.

“It’s time to look at an alternative that can deliver flood damage benefits in an equitable way to communities throughout the Chehalis Basin. We need a Plan B,” said Johnston, who is one of seven voting members of the Chehalis Basin Board which oversees the Strategy.

The purpose of the proposed dam would be to reduce flood peaks at the cities of Centralia and Chehalis triggered by rainfall in the Willapa Hills. According to the DEIS, the dam would help reduce flood peaks as far downstream as Montesano, but how that flood peak reduction would translate into downstream protection for homes and property is unclear.

The Chehalis Basin is important habitat for Roosevelt elk as well as fishers, marbled murrelets, and other species. Photo: Eric Foltz

The DEIS outlines measures under a Local Actions Alternative, including improving floodplain function and buying out or relocating at-risk properties and structures, but does not analyze the potential benefits of those actions to reduce flood damage. The DEIS states it would be up to local governments to identify specific projects.

The DEIS states “2,955 existing structures could be inundated during a catastrophic flood in late-century. The Proposed Project would eliminate flooding for 1,280 of these structures,” or less than half of those expected to experience significant flooding. Moreover, the DEIS does not provide specific information for how many of those structures are in the lower Basin where communities like Montesano, Elma, Aberdeen, and Hoquiam face unique flooding threats of their own.

Despite a decline in salmon runs of 80% over the last 30 years, the Chehalis River Basin remains one of the most important producers of wild fish in Washington State and is one of the few places left in the state where no salmon species are currently listed as threatened or endangered.

The Quinault Indian Nation remains committed to participating in the Chehalis Basin Strategy and Chehalis Basin Board to identify sustainable ways to protect both communities and ecosystems of the Chehalis Basin.


For more background on the Chehalis Basin Strategy and dam proposal, please visit this QUINAULT NATION website or our CASCADES TO OLYMPICS WEBPAGE
Chinook salmon, one of several species of Pacific salmon and steelhead that return to the Chehalis River and its tributaries. The Chehalis is one of few Washington watersheds where these fish are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Photo: UW