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December 2011

EDITORIAL

2011 – A YEAR END REVIEW OF THE ZERO YEAR 

THE WEB PAGE

Although in 2011 the web page “unique visits” were down almost 2,000 users we still had over 19,000 unique visitors and they visited the web page a total of over 27,000 times.  The amount of material downloaded was up by 21.4 gigabytes at 70 gigabytes for the year.  For those of you who are like me and not computer geeks, that is a lot of information downloaded.  So either we are putting more information on line or the “hardcore” flood enthusiasts are downloading a lot more information.   The web page continues to be monitored by federal, state and local government entities; colleges, universities and high schools; realtors, consultants, Tribes, lawyers, environmental groups, engineers, the business community and most importantly, you the taxpayer who foots the bill for all the public expenditures of tax money for flood control/flood risk reduction measures including but not limited to study after study after study.  Thank you one and all who take the time out of your busy lives to stay abreast of the flood issue, its history, present and future. 

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QUOTE OF THE YEAR

              Last year we added a new feature to the end of the year Angry Citizen.  It is called the “Quote of the Year.   While we like to think that all the “Quotes of the Month” are worthy, after an extensive review and discussion with my webmaster (my son Josef) we feel that the one quote that stands out would be the following:

Water is our greatest asset. In that same form, and in the twinkling of an eye, it becomes our greatest enemy. . . . From an unknown period, likely at the turn of the century, when diking was first commenced for the private landowners' immediate benefit to a group enterprise, up to 1947, the districts and/or their individual landowners and farmers, cooperating together, spent approximately two million three hundred fifty, sixty thousand dollars on the dikes. . . . Since 1943 the State, helping Skagit County and these some odd sixteen diking districts and some twenty-five or so drainage districts, we together have spent a million three hundred thousand dollars, making approximately a total of three million six hundred sixty thousand dollars together during this century on these levees from approximately Sterling Bend at Burlington to the mouth of both forks. . . . "Every man is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to form it on the basis of wrong acts." . . . We are now at a time here when we must decide, do we continue this ineffectual and inefficient method of maintaining a substandard set of works, or stop that type of a program and improve our worth and net assets by doing something that's comprehensive and lasting and not be faced with this annual fear that these substandard dikes are going to be topped, your home lost.

(Source: 5/10/1964 Public Hearing Transcript; Corps mtg with Skagit County residents re Improvement Downstream Levees and adding Fisheries and Recreation to Avon ByPass., Greg Hastings, Supervisor of Flood Control, Dept. of Conservation)

It is worth noting that the second runner-up was:

Apathy concerning flood control is a major hindrance in securing adequate flood control devices and regulations in most flood plains throughout the country. Communities are reluctant to spend money on flood control projects until flooding does occur. Then there is a chorus of voices haranguing governmental agencies for more protection. After a time this dies down and apathy again replaces action. . . . It must be remembered that in dealing with a powerful entity like a river every action has a reaction.”

(Source: 3/1976 Skagit River Flooding: An Overview by Skagit County Rural Development Committee)

 

2011 – THE ZERO YEAR

              Last year I stated the following:

If I had to sum up the year 2010 with respect to flood risk reduction in two words it would be failure and disappointment.  We seem to pretend issues don’t exist so long as we stick our heads where the sun doesn’t shine and hope they will just go away.  They need to quit acting like small town clown country bumpkin functional illiterate hillbilly hick rednecks that just fell off the cabbage patch truck and realize that the issues don’t just go away and unless 2011 produces an epiphany of thought processes I feel very strongly that we are well on the road back to and will have the same result as in 1979.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index

              Sadly, nothing changed in 2011. 

Skagit County Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee

 Sadly because nothing changed in 2011 the SCFCZDAC was once again awarded the somewhat less than prestigious “Ostrich Award” for all the same reasons stated in last year's end of the year editorial.  Here is a link to that editorial.  Everything that was stated in that editorial still stands.

The Ostrich Award

 

              The Flood Advisory Committee only met a very few times and nothing was accomplished at any of those meetings.  The last two meetings barely had a quorum.  The next meeting is in late January 2012 before all the County Commissioners with the sub-committees.   Hopefully the Commissioners will issue a stern demand that the committees either gel and produce a work product within a certain timeline or submit their resignations.  The same goes for the subcommittees.  As I have been stating since 2008, the committee continues to be fractured between the various special interests at the table mostly resembling turf war mentalities instead of a cooperative effort on behalf of all the county residents.  Then there is the issue of telling the truth.  In 2008 we were told that the 3-bridge corridor project involved moving the levees back off the edge of the river.  Two of the dike districts knew at the time that they had no plans whatsoever to remove the current levees.  Failure to remove the levees would put the Dike Districts and the Cities of Burlington and Mt. Vernon in conflict with 44CFR 60.3(c)(10).  The real problem is that as the runner-up Quote of the Year stated, “It must be remembered that in dealing with a powerful entity like a river every action has a reaction.”  Remove the levees and more water goes downstream to Mt. Vernon, leave the levees and more water is stored upstream in the Nookachamps/Sterling/Sedro-Woolley area and more water is forced across Highway 20 into Burlington.  The truth of the matter is that Dike District 12 is responsible for flooding its own district when they changed the natural course of the river.  They can blame the railroad bridge all they want to but the truth is that the bridge doesn’t back up any water due to the scouring effect of the Skagit.  The truth of the matter is it is the location of the levees that is backing up the water.  The truth is what the committee should be dealing with, not the good ole boy political mentality of dancing around the issues by sticking their head into the sand and pretending they don’t exist..  Not the telling of lies.  Not hiding public documents from committee members.  Most importantly not showing any ability to compromise in order to come together as a community.  The committee should learn from the words of Emily Dickinson “Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it.”

2011 – Report Card on Flood Control

And now the much anticipated annual report card on flood control.

ANNUAL REPORT CARD ON FLOOD CONTROL -- 2011

Enity

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Justification

US Army Corps of Engineers

D+

F-

D+

F

F

F

The Corps still has the hydrology wrong as they are using the wrong hydrology computer model to determine the amount of scour that is occurring in the leveed areas.  The HEC-RAS model does not have the ability to determine scour.  Scour and the “soft sandy soils” in the Skagit River is something the Corps has been recognizing since the early 1940’s and was concerned about with the placement of LWD in the latest levy repairs.  (See Seattle District Hydraulics & Hydrology MFR on Skagit River Levee Repairs They don’t know how deep the bottom of the river is at Concrete in the Dalles during a flood event nor do they know how deep the river is at the BNSF bridge or the Mt. Vernon gage since they have never modeled it. 

FEMA

F

F

C

F

F

F

FEMA Region X continues to be a joke.  They don’t enforce anything in Skagit County but a house in the floodway in Bonner County permitted 10 years ago and they want to throw the County out of the NFIP.  Yet in Skagit County in the location to be managed in the floodway, an expensive home is built, over 3 billion dollars of infrastructure has been placed in harms way, dike districts have added fill to their levees both on top of and riverward of the levees (in one location 4 feet of fill with no hydraulic analysis) and massive amounts of rock rip rap with no analysis of scour impacts in the floodway, and FEMA does nothing.

FERC

F

F

F

X

X

F

FERC continues to ignore the obvious benefit to the people of Skagit County by requiring additional storage behind Lower Baker.  Thus causing multi-million dollar flood projects in the valley.  Storage behind the Baker Dams, even paying PSE for the right, is still the cheapest form of flood control. 

SKAGIT COUNTY

C-

D-

C

D

D-

D

All of the “evil doers” in the Public Works Dept. (PWD) who have consistently been in bed with the Dike Districts have been removed.  Perhaps now the Advisory Committee will be able to do its own work, set its own agendas, review all documents in the County’s possession with respect to flood issues.  We have some very good people now in the PWD who are very capable and I think understand that the role of the PWD is to answer questions and not dictate to the committee on when they should be meeting or what they should be doing.

SKAGIT COUNTY FCZDAC

X

X

C

D

F

F

Once again the committee was the recipient of the Ostrich Award.  The FCZDAC barely met in 2011 and accomplished nothing at those meetings.  The subcommittees have shown no desire to even meet or provide any degree of leadership. 

TRIBES

F

F

C-

F

F

F

The local Tribes continue to boycott the process and like the rest of the special interests fail to offer any kind of a compromise.  The recent blowup of water rights between the County and the Swinomish is yet another example of the Tribes failure to work together and are an embarrassment to Tribes everywhere.

USFW

F

F

F

F

F

F

Did nothing positive in 2011 towards making positive suggestions to how flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration can work hand in hand.  If the levees fail due to the “root balls” placed next to the levees (which by the way the predator birds and fish that eat salmon fry are already enjoying the smorgasbord) we will know who to blame.

USGS

F-

F

F-

D-

F

F

USGS was the runner-up of the Ostrich award.  In 2011 they laid low and ignored the sea level vs. low low water argument and continue to endorse the Stewart “Modified” Report which continues to be an embarrassment to even “not exact” scientists everywhere.

WSDOT

 X

X

F

F

F

F-

WSDOT (the main funder of the 3 bridge corridor project) seems to be complacent with the policy of a second levee to protect I-5 which they designed to overtop in the 1960’s.  They seem oblivious to the fact that the construction of I-5 has already raised the flood waters more then one foot east of I-5.  And they see nothing wrong with getting all the taxpayers to bail WSDOT out.

2012—What Must Be Done?

Sadly, with minor editing the paragraphs I wrote in 2008 are still applicable on this last day of 2011.

I’m almost to the point of saying that if you have to be told what must be done then you haven’t paid attention to any of our history for the last 115 years.   Look people, this is not rocket science.  You don’t have to be a hydraulic engineer to realize that water is wet, it flows downhill and you should not be placing 3 billion dollars worth of urban infrastructure on the bottom of rivers.  This is especially true of volcanic floodplains like the Skagit with two active earthquake faults and two active volcanoes in its river basin.  Is that really so difficult to understand?

Endorsing the raising of any levees in Skagit County is to ignore all of the verbiage contained on this web page (mostly ACOE documents) that states repeatedly that the soils are too soft and too permeable to allow for raising of the levees.  All of the soils in and adjacent to the river are underlain with volcanic soils that are extremely unstable all the way from Hamilton to LaConner.  (See Figure 4 of Report on Mount Vernon Flood Protection Project Geotechnical Assessment, Mount Vernon Washington and Cockreham Island Buy-Out Feasibility Study for lahar soils (Figure 5. Geology).  Building higher levees on these types of soils is a disaster waiting to happen.  Building cities and towns on the bottom of a volcanic floodplain is the height of insanity.

So too is it really so difficult to understand that for the Upper Skagit Valley the only viable project that will help them is a change in the operational procedures of the Puget and Seattle City Light Dams?  Especially since the figures used to calculate the storage behind Ross Dam are figures that FEMA, USGS and the Corps say are not trustworthy.  If we can’t use the figures for computing flood flows why are they viable for computing storage? 

Why is it so difficult to understand that the only viable project in the Lower Valley is get the water past the City of Burlington and get rid of it before it gets to Mt. Vernon? This would have the immediate effect of doing away with the floodway designation for those communities and could have the impact of lowering the BFE figures, thus making 100 year certified levees affordable in the future.  To the farming community, if you are truly interested in preserving the farmland legacy of previous generations for future generations the fact that your land is still subject to flooding is your strongest ally.  At a minimum you should be considering overtopping in low areas of the floodplain. If we had this system (including the dam storage we have now) in place since 1924 we would have only had to dump the water once in the last 84 years (which should be another huge red flag on just how wrong the hydrology is).  Once in 84 years is not a bad price to pay for the preservation of the best farmland in America (Source:  9/3/25 Argus).

We also need to address the issue of how are going to fund any project.  There are really only three options.  1) Raise property taxes; 2) Raise the sales tax or 3) keep throwing money at the GI Study in hopes that we could stand in the welfare line behind the $60 billion dollars’ worth of projects already approved in hopes that we could get some money from the federal government in which case we would still have to implement either #1 or #2.  (See Skagit County Public Works: What Will Flood Control Cost? and Plan B Presentation)

If in 2012 we fail to do this, we will make the immortal words of former county commissioner Howard Miller become the prophecy for the future when he stated in 1979, “Nothing will ever happen on flood control in Skagit County until Burlington is washed into Padilla Bay.”  Is that really the legacy we want to leave behind?  Paving over paradise to put up a used car parking lot is not a legacy of responsibility; it is a legacy of greed and selfishness, founded in the “Screw You Jack” philosophy.

 LETS DO IT OURSELVES!!  LETS DO IT NOW!!  LETS DO IT WITH VOTER APPROVAL!!

May your fields be ripe and budding and your rivers full and flooding (because its the only time people pay attention).

 The Angry Citizen

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