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April 2006 Ask the Angry Citizen

The below questions were submitted by Mt. Vernon resident, Ted Cook:

So, why do you think Stewart adjusted his flow figures up by 20% or so?  I would agree with you that this speaks volumes as to his how he viewed the precision of his own work, probably plus or minus 10% at best. 

 I have no idea how someone could miss 7 feet of water in 1918.  My hunch is that Mr. Stewart was a dinosaur hunter.  He had heard about the Indian legend of “the great flood” and set out to find it which by the way I believe he did.  But making the 1815-1820 flood fit on the frequency curve necessitated moving up the volumes on all the other flood events.  The mistake he made (and he admitted there was a possibility of this) was that the 1815-1820 event was not a rain on snow event but rather was caused by a landslide (according to the Indian legend, See 3/5/36 C.H.) in Diablo Canyon (exactly where Stewart found his bark) where they built the current Diablo Dam.

Why is it important that the 100 year flood is proved to be lower?  Is it for lower insurance rates, or so a flood control project would have to be smaller?

To me it’s not an issue of why the 100 year flood should be lower as much as it is an issue of what is right.  Having said that, without Stewart’s figures we would have about 40,000 cfs (approximately 4 to 5 feet of water at Concrete) less in the river and that would have a significant impact on flood control projects.  Also, I think it would impact the frequency curve so that the 1990, 1995 and 2003 flood events would be considered more like 75-80 year events which would mean with additional storage and some minor modifications to our levee system we could handle a good flood control project that would fit the “3 E’s … Environmental, Economic, Engineering” of flood control.  The Stewart figures will not have much of an impact on FEMA flood elevations in the lower valley; maybe a foot or so as 40,000 cfs is not all that much spread out over 68,000 acres.

My most recent interest in flood control was hearing of the MV plan to build a berm to eliminate flood insurance downtown.  Hearing of your recent experiences in D.C., I'll believe that this will reduce rates when I hear it from the horses mouth, and I guess the horse would be FEMA.  Still, I live on the hill and I'd gladly help pay for the project, because I feel that protecting downtown to at least have parity with the levees on the Westside of the river is just common sense.

I agree.  I don’t think the berm or the “feature of the topography” is going to fly.  I have nothing against Mt. Vernon building a levee but call it a levee and get it certified.  Yes it will cost a lot more but in the end you achieve what your goal is that being removing downtown Mt. Vernon from the FEMA 100 year floodplain.

I lived in Burlington for nine years a block from gages slough.  In 95' I was amazed to see the water climb up to within a foot of the top of the levee behind the sewage treatment plant.  They have certainly beefed up those levees since then.  Interestingly one big old tree was filled around the trunk with five or ten feet of fill did not survive.

You don’t happen to have any pictures of the level of the water do you?

My dream floodway would be gages slough, with levees on either side, a half mile wide and nothing built in the middle.  Probably too late for that.  My second dream floodway would be taking off at the south end of sterling hill and going out Joe Leary Slough.  I saw this mentioned by someone in the historical documents, but I can't find it now.

For 20 years I supported the “Avon By-Pass” concept.  If you want to save the lower valley then that is the project that does that.  However, the bottom-line is that we simply cannot afford it (300 million and climbing as we speak) and the Tribes and the agency people made it a nightmare trying to do so.  Here is the link to the Sterling Cut-Off article:  11/22/1904 Skagit County Times

Are wetlands compatible with being in a floodway?  In practice farmland and residences are not compatible?  It seems like farmland could be compatible in a 100 year flood basin or wide floodway.  A 10 year basin, I see how that is a problem. 

The floodway issue is going to be contentious on its best day.  There will be heated public meetings when property owners/developers find out that their property is within a floodway where almost nothing can be built and/or what is already built cannot be re-built if it is damaged more then 50% of its current value.  To answer your question, yes, wetlands are very compatible with being in a floodway.  For that matter so is farmland, in fact I have often said that the only people who really belong in the floodplain especially the floodway portion are farmers.  One of the possible solutions to the floodway scenario is to put in an overflow levee in the Avon Bend and let the water go to Padilla Bay where it wants to go anyway.  Of course you can see the immediate downside to this proposal if you lived in that area, but it would solve the flooding problems for Mt. Vernon and Burlington, would save I-5, but could/would probably play hell with Highway 20.  Protecting Mt. Vernon can be done with structural proposals or simply by getting rid of the water before it gets there.  Contrary to what the former FEMA official said last Monday night, in the mid-1980’s they did designate a floodway in the lower valley (See FEMA documents 1982 through 1984).  They did not designate a “regulatory floodway” but did designate areas of “Special Flood Risk Zone” which included the landward toe of the levees to the landward toe of the levees as well as Gages Slough.  FEMA never enforced the NFIP regulations and the designations were pretty much ignored.  (See FEMA -- The Total Failure Package)

Personally, I see progress where west MV was bought out and is now a park.  If the buildings close to the river in downtown are removed, that would be progress too.  If every single residence, business, or farm has to be preserved, the worst solutions are inevitable.

Someone’s ox is going to have to be gored, that is for sure.  Without the community realizing that we are going nowhere which is where we have been for 109 years.

The Angry Citizen