Green River levees going in to halt flooding

by: Frank Field Updated:

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Auburn, Wash. —

A construction project to stop flooding along the Green River got underway today. It's an $8 million project that's supposed to protect homes in the Auburn area. It's just the latest expense to add to the expensive list of projects following damage to the Howard Hanson Dam in 2009. That year, record water levels at the dam revealed damage to its right abutment, which set off a long and expensive series of projects to shore up and improve the dam to protect people and property in communities along the Green River floodplain.

Trucks started moving earth Tuesday afternoon in Auburn where a wider and taller levee will be able to hold back more water should the Howard Hanson Dam be compromised or should major flooding occur. "This not only protects individuals, it protects companies and businesses and jobs," said King County Flood Control District member Peter von Reichbauer.

Even though the Army Corps of Engineers spent $44 million fixing and improving the dam, it can still only hold back a certain amount of water, so county and leaders of communities along the river wanted more protection. "In a major flood situation that dam is going to have to release the water out, or the reservoir will overflow and the dam will be ruined. And you'll have a catastrophic flood," said King County Flood Control District Chairman Reagan Dunn.

The district spent $7.1 million putting sandbags along the levy. Removing them has cost $2.3 million so far, with another $3.3 million earmarked for that and rehabbing the riverbanks. But Dunn said the sandbags were a necessary expense as a stopgap while the agency went through the logistics of acquiring land to do a list of levee improvement projects, some of which were scheduled before this one, the largest of the Green River levee projects. "Because it's so expensive is was one of the reasons why it maybe wasn't necessarily first. We went for the low-hanging fruit, the quick-fixes that we could do, now we're getting into the real substantive stuff," Dunn said.

Even after all this, there's no guarantee that the levees will never be breached by extreme flooding. But official say the levee improvements will protect almost $700 million worth of homes and businesses in the floodplain. Project is expected to be complete by October.