Conservation Northwest response to the passing of the Chehalis Basin Board’s $70 million budget

Conservation Northwest response to the passing of the Chehalis Basin Board’s $70 million budget

Conservation Northwest / Aug 25, 2021 / Cascades to Olympics, Protecting Wildlands

We support the budget recently passed by the Chehalis Basin Board, which ultimately allows for non-dam solutions in the Chehalis Basin to develop.

The upper Chehalis River near Pe Ell, Washington. Photo: Photo Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission

After three months of debate, revisions and public comments, last week the Chehalis Basin Board unanimously passed a 2021-23 biennium budget of $70 million.

This funding comes from appropriations by the Washington State Legislature to support the Office of Chehalis Basin‘s dual mission to reduce flood-related damages while also restoring habitat for salmon and other aquatic habitat in the Chehalis River basin, together known as the Chehalis Basin Strategy. Created by the State Legislature, the Office of Chehalis Basin is part of the Washington State Department of Ecology.

This approved budget includes funding to develop a Local-Actions Alternative, flood mitigation projects, aquatic species restoration, and provides funding to finish the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Impact Statement analysis for the proposed dam on the upper mainstem Chehalis River.

Conservation Northwest, the Quinault Nation and Chehalis Tribe and numerous other local groups and residents have consistently voiced concerns about this dam proposal—including the possibility of other alternatives being underfunded in a May letter—especially as Washington removes dams in salmon and steelhead habitat in other watersheds.

Although the recently-passed budget still allows for continuation of the process that is evaluating a dam, it invests less in activities that assume a dam is the solution to the complex issues in the Chehalis Basin.

“We support this budget, as it is possibly the most advantageous budget for all stakeholders,” said Brian Stewart, Conservation Northwest’s Cascades to Olympics Program Coordinator and a resident of Lewis County.

“While the budget still has allocations that continue the EIS process for a dam on the Chehalis River, the addition of substantial funding to develop a serious non-dam approach to flood mitigation allows for a more robust discussion and sets back the dam alternative as a foregone conclusion,” says Stewart.

“The representative from the Chehalis Tribe offered side-ways thumb or non-vote because the budget was too important to vote against, but their vote signaled that it also lacked components to satisfy all Tribal and environmental concerns. However, the delay in passing this budget held up projects from the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan and Community Flood Resilience Program, so it is important that it passed.”

Additionally, Stewart notes that jobs tied to projects funded by the Chehalis Basin Board were likely to be lost had the board taken any longer on finalizing the budget. Overall, we at Conservation Northwest think this budget vote moves the Chehalis Basin Strategy forward and offers a foundation that can be built on as votes on budgets become more contentious going forward.

The proposed Chehalis Dam site in southwest Washington. Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers

Conservation Northwest would also like to acknowledge the effort, time, and voice that the Quinault Indian Nation and the Chehalis Confederacy of Tribes have put forth in this process.

“At times Tribal representatives were the sole voice of concern on the Chehalis Basin Board over the budget, without their leadership and willingness to be the formal face of dissent on the board we would likely be witnessing a different outcome,” said Stewart.

“Leadership through action and employing the courage of one’s convictions is not always safe and comfortable, yet the Quinault and Chehalis Tribes continue to advocate for what they believe to be the responsible path forward which does not include a dam, echoing environmental groups, businesses, Basin residents, and Washingtonians.”

Conservation Northwest looks forward to supporting this process into the future, seeking suitable and resilient solutions to the floods, fish and wildlife habitat loss, and environmental degradation impacted the Chehalis Basin.

Furthermore, we will continue to support the Indigenous communities in the Chehalis Basin seeking non-destructive ways to live with the flooding in the basin. Lastly, we hope that future budgets are cleared with the Tribes before being brought to a vote and that important habitat and flood projects are not slowed in the future due to delayed votes and we will continue to work in our capacity at the Chehalis River Alliance to be a voice for our members, the region, habitat connectivity and wildlife.


Learn more about our CASCADES TO OLYMPICS program and the CHEHALIS RIVER ALLIANCE
Near the proposed Chehalis Dam site in southwest Washington. Photo: Shane Anderson, Pacific Rivers