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Dredging Issue


Historical Dredging On The Skagit River (1920-1966)

This document looks at 46 years of Skagit County history, 20 of which actual dredging (sidecasting method) was being done.  It explores all the reasons local people wanted it done and all the reasons the Corps of Engineers says it cannot be done for flood control purposes.

7/20/2007 Why Dredging Won't Work

Channel 300-800 ft. wide, 100 year floodplain 5,280-15,840 ft. (1-3 miles) wide, how deep do you think the ditch has to be?

Updated to add slides showing how much cubic yards were taken out of the Skagit and about the ships dredging the Skagit and removing snags "for navigational purposes".

1/20/2009 Skagit River Dredging: The Perception vs. The Truth Short presentation for the Jan. 20, 2009 Skagit County Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee on the history of dredging and why dredging won't work.

Report and Findings Skagit Flood Control District Boundary Commission

State Committee.  Rpt recommended dredging of the several branches of the Skagit River through the delta; rip rap for the Sauk & Cascade Rivers; removal of snags and drift in Samish River btwn Allen and the Whatcom County line, among other recommendations.
3/02/1937 Report of Public Hearing

The farmers have tilled the soil up close to the banks of the river; the dikes are built there, and the problem of dredging presents a situation where there is no place adequate to waste the sand that is taken from the river bed.  In other words, it will result in an attempt to confine to too narrow an area the volume of water that must escape.  That was faulty planning, or lack of planning at the start.  But the expenditures have been made and the farmers are attempting from their own pockets to keep that situation intact and improve it.” [R. V. Welts, Chairman, Skagit County Planning Council]

2/21/1952 Report on Survey for Flood Control of Skagit River and Tributaries “The existing reservoirs are not effective in preventing major flooding in the Skagit Valley, Diablo Reservoir is ordinarily maintained at a high level by Ross storage and has no flood storage, Shannon Lake is likewise held at a high level if stream flow permits, but an incidental degree of minor flood protection might be available if the reservoir should be drawn down because of deficient run-off before a flood, Ross Reservoir above Diablo has a large amount of storage, primarily for power, but the Federal Power Commission has required a reservation of winter flood control storage space. Studies are under way to determine the amount of such storage, and it is believed that it will not exceed 200,000 acre-feet. Because of its far upstream location Ross Reservoir storage cannot greatly reduce major floods on the lower Skagit River, The effectiveness of Ross storage in reducing peak discharges depends upon location of the storm center and other variable storm characteristics, Estimates based on average conditions indicate that crest reductions varying between 15,000 and 25,000 second-feet may be expected at Sedro Woolley.
1961 Drainage District 17 District encompassed 4,680 acres.  Wanted to dredge South Fork of Skagit River.


Letter to the Corps from the City editor of the Concrete Herald

1961 letter to Corps from Concrete Herald editor re his opposition to Faber Dam site and his support of dredging.

1/18/1963 Feasibility Report, Skagit River, Washington (Navigation)

NOTE TO REVIEWER:  This is a very poor copy of the original and very difficult to read.  It helps to enlarge it to 125-150%.  This document looked at the history of a navigation project between Mt. Vernon and Concrete originally authorized by Congress on May 13, 1947.  The final results are in this report as well as a lot of statistical history on logging and local businesses.

"Tug operators advised that a 100-ft channel width and a 6 foot depth would be sufficient for foreseeable navigation requirements." (13) ... Approx 1,520,000 CY of material would be dredged. (15 & 21)  Estimated that annual maintenance dredging would consist of 380,000 CY.  (22b)  Two mills at SW sell annually, an average of 10,500,000 board-feet of lumber to the US Army. (27)  Total annual benefits of barge canal would be $592,000. (28)  Annual cost $474,000. (29) Amt needed to complete study $45,000. (30) The Skagit River navigation study has been authorized and intermittently underway since 1947 In view of this fact ... an effort should be made to complete the study as soon as practicable.  ... $15,000 needed to complete the study be allocated early in fiscal year 1964. (31)

See also Dredging Issue page for related documents and 4/12/1949 Minutes on Public Hearing on Skagit River, Washington, Relating to Navigation
7/2/1963 Tulalip Tribe Resolution #168-17 Opposition to Dredging Project Tulalips along with Swinomish and Lummi Indians threatened to sue Corps if they went ahead with dredging project or Sauk Dam.
6/19/1963 Corps MFR re meeting in Burlington on Dredging of Skagit River (for navigation) '. . . navigation (project) extending downstream from Concrete to the Mt. Vernon area."  ". . . A depth of 6 feet would be provided for a river low of 9,000 cfs."  " united opposition from fishery interests on the proposed project. 
9/5/1963 Letter to Corps from Wash. Fly Fishing Club re Dredging "An estimated 30% of the steelhead in the Skagit spawn below Concrete."  The club is "concerned that a Skagit river barge channel will endanger important spawning beds for steelhead as well as salmon."

USACOE Avon Bypass Reactivation Report

Unregulated 100yr fld 250,000 to 300,000 cfs (pg 2); The 35-year level of flood protection provided by the Avon Bypass with levee and channel improvements would protect against 79 percent of average annual flood damages under present conditions.  These flood damages are 75 percent agricultural and only 25 percent urban.  Therefore, the project is now required essentially for the protection of agricultural lands, and the 35-year level of protection is well suited to present development.  . . .  The semi-pervious foundation conditions preclude any general raising of levees without extensive broadening of the levee sections, construction of cutoffs to reduce seepage, and relocation of the road systems adjacent to the levee system. (pg 4)  To achieve the same results as the Bypass and levee improvements, the channel would have to be widened from 300 to 600 feet from the downstream limits of Sedro Woolley to the mouth of the river, a distance of over 20 miles.  (pg 6)  ... At Mt. Vernon the 1932 flood of 140,000 c.f.s. has a 12-year frequency; the 1921 flood of 182,000 c.f.s. has a 30-year frequency; and a flood of 245,000 c.f.s, would have a 100-year frequency.  ... 278,000 at SW (Table 2)
11/08/1963 Ltr to Senator Jackson in response to ltr fm C.A. Flanery "We have considered dredging and found it to be infeasible..."  . . . "Our studies to date have confirmed that flood control measures are urgently needed in the Skagit River Valley." ... "Benefit to cost ratio estimated to be about 2 to 1."  ... Avon Bypass would increase protection from a present average 5-yr flood to 30-year flood frequency.
See also: 10/23/1963 Ltr to Senator Jackson From G.A. Flanary re Avon By-Pass

MFR-Skagit River Navigation Project

MFR deals with off the record meetings with local officials re dredging for navigation project.  100 FT wide, 6 ft. deep channel from Concrete to Puget Sound, 9,000 cfs discharge.

Ltr to Corps fm Rainbow Anglers Club re dredging

Club was opposed to dredging and "any future proposals for dams."
1/10/1964  Public Hearing Transcript; Corps mtg with Skagit County residents re Improvement Downstream Levees and adding Fisheries and Recreation to Avon ByPass. This public hearing transcript covers everything from dredging to the Sauk River Dam, to levee improvements, the Avon Bypass.  It is a wonderful snapshot in time on the issue of flood control.  Unfortunately, many of the views expressed at the public meeting are the same views being expressed by the uniformed today.  One of the better quotes from the document is from an old timer who passed away a few years ago.  "Let's have protection now, rather than 'Aid to a Disaster Area' later."
Zell A. Young, Welder, West Mt. Vernon, January 10, 1964 public hearing on Avon Bypass  
9/7/1965 Corps letter to Congressman Meeds re Avon Bypass Extensive letter justifying the Bypass concept.  Addresses why dredging won't work and setback levees too expensive.
1/15/1966 MFR re mtg in MV re Recreational Benefits of Avon Bypass Corps and Bureau of Outdoor Recreation met with Skagit County Parks Board.  Addressed dredging, Ross Dam Storage and support for recreational element of Bypass plan.
3/1/1966 Supplement to Review Report on Flood Control and Other Improvements on Skagit River, Wa., Corps of Engineers, Seattle District Report address a myriad of flood control options including dredging, widening channel, dredging the mouth of the river and levee raising.  
6/8/1978 June 8, 1978 Skagit County Flood Control Council Meeting Minutes “The Council questioned Mr. Skrinde regarding dredging of the mouth of the North Fork of the Skagit River. Mr. Skrinde answered that he had done considerable study of dredging for the mouth of the North Fork as an Engineer for the Corps. That an undertaking of this nature would be very expensive. That a pile line or rock rip-rap line along each side of the channel would be necessary at great expense. That Skagit County would have to sign a maintenance agreement with the Corps to keep this channel clear once it was established. That most likely, this channel would need dredging each year. The cost to Skagit County for this maintenance operation would be prohibitive.
2/7/1979 February 7, 1979 Skagit County Flood Control Council Invitation “It seems a considerable number of people in Skagit County still feel dredging is a reasonable alternative for Flood Protection. We need to address this thinking.
2/7/1979 February 7, 1979 Skagit County Flood Control Council Meeting Minutes “Considerable discussion took place regarding the feeling by some people that dredging the river is the answer to flood protection. Mr. Nelson pointed out that the Project as presented will not include dredging for a number of reasons. ... The Board discussed the possibility of the Dike Districts assisting Skagit County in financing the local portion of the Levee Project. The Board feels the Dike Districts should incur little expense for dike construction and maintenance for a considerable time after construction of the levees is completed. It has been roughly estimated that the combined Diking Districts have a tax base of about $250,000,000. The Board feels an annual levee of about 50 cents per $1,000 valuation would be reasonable. At this rate, the Diking Districts could raise about $125,000 per year to assist Skagit County in financing the local portion of the Levee Project.
3/10/1979 Corps new language for draft GDM Elimination of Channel Improvements:  The authorized project recommended channel improvements (excavation and widening) to increase the hydraulic capacity of the Skagit River below MV. . . . Total proposed excavation was $1,466,600 cu yds over a total length of 2.5 miles. . . . The channelization features of the authorized project met with opposition from resource agencies and members of the public.  . . .  Major environmental impacts. . . to fisheries due to the loss of shallow vegetated shore zone habitat, critical rearing area for juvenile anadromous fish during their out migration; impacts to water quality. . . alteration of sediment deposition patterns as a result of channelization. . . . any significant impacts to fisheries as a result of the propose channel improvements.  Loss of fish could impact upriver Bald Eagles.  Channel improvements also would have unacceptable impacts on set net fishing areas used by the Swinomish Indian Tribe below the North Fork.

MFR re amounts of material "dredged" out of the Skagit River

This MFR documents the historical “dredging” performed by the Corps. In reality the Corps never really dredged anything. The process was called “side-casting” which put the sand obtained from the bottom of the river up on the river banks where it proceeded to be washed back into the river during the next freshet.
1996 Dredging - Frequently asked Questions/Statements

Questions and answers about dredging of the Skagit River.


WG Minutes

Ron Malmgren replied that even if the capacity of the river was doubled by dredging 40 to 50 feet deep with an 800-foot channel width, one would still see a tidal effect at Mount Vernon.  Because the tide holds the water back, dredging simply won’t be that helpful.  Additionally, the dredged area will be filled in about 5 years and all of the fish habitat will have been destroyed.  . . .  Questions turned to how much dredging can be done before the integrity of the levees is compromised.  Sky replied that one cannot dig below 40 feet.  Curt Wylie mentioned that for every foot over flood stage, the river scours a foot deeper into the riverbed.  Sky confirmed this statement and added that the river moves around and dredges a hole in the riverbed.  When the river slows down it drops its sediment load, which will fill in any holes that were created through dredging.  Additionally, clean water flows faster and will pick up more soil increasing the level of erosion.  . . .  Bob Boudinot asked what distance the levees would have to be setback to accommodate flooding.  Ron answered that they would have to be moved 500 to 1,000 feet depending on the capacity.  The Burlington Northern railroad is the biggest constriction of the river. Bob noted that it was the shore side spans of the railroad bridge that caused the constrictions and not the piers.  Therefore, they should only have to add short spans between the piers close to the shore.  . . .  Stephen Pierce asked what the benefits of overtopping are.  Ron responded that the rural areas get wet and not the urban areas.  Chuck Bennett asked if they could develop a plan in which the set backs hold 190,000 to 200,000 c.f.s. and overtopping areas take the rest of the floodwaters.  He noted that the set backs are more of a controlled system as opposed to the overtopping.  Ron Malmgren informed him that it was possible.


Corps PowerPoint Presentation re answers to various questions presented by the WG

Addresses’ issues like the Mt. Vernon revetment, storage in the Nookachamps, levee setbacks, Gages Slough and dredging.


Public Comment Submission from Dan O'Donnell, re: Environmental Technical Committee's findings regarding Measure #35 - La Conner

Regardless of the Corps' label, this project has consistently been called: "Gap Filler".  In a meeting with Col. Wright, it was made clear that the objective is to replace the approximately 1,700 lineal feet of levee that was removed in the early 1970's, and rebuild the spoils left from dredging an additional 1,100 ft. The Town Council does not envision building a new ring dike around La Conner.

6/3/2009 story: Drowning Jackson “For most of the past century, the answer to flooding was to straighten rivers or strategically dam them up. There was no problem human ingenuity couldn’t dredge or concrete its way out of.  It was only after we developed a deeper understanding of our environment and began to see the long-term destruction imposed by such projects that we began to reverse our strategy.”
5/7/2012 Comment sheet to Corps fm Don Henkle “The #3 proposal definitely looks best to us, using the Joe Leary Slough plan.  Our property would be in the flood area if #4 plan was followed. . . . How about dredging the Skagit channel?”