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Flood History Issues Page
5/15/2005 Historical Floods Of The Skagit River (1892 through 1951)

This is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of historical information on individual flood events of the Skagit River ever assembled. 98% of this document comes from direct quotes obtained from local newspapers.


Skagit River History

This paper is an attempt to document some of the history of the Skagit River according to mostly government documents obtained from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. On occasion it will also contain information obtained from local historical newspaper articles. It is a factual issue oriented paper addressing the log jams, boat traffic, commerce, logging, agriculture, dam building, flood events of the “early days” and much more.

5/3/2011 Before-After Flooding in the Skagit River Basin
A series of photographs showing how floods impact the Skagit River Basin.  Note how development has crept into the Skagit River floodplain after each flood.
Historic Flood Flows of the Skagit River

This document list the flood events and the recorded flows.  I first put this together in 1991 when I authored Skagit River Valley: The Disaster Waiting To Happen. Most of the information came from the 1979 Corps of Engineers GDM used for the 1979 Levee Improvement project proposal. I have updated the document each time we had another flood event. It is sort of a running record of flood events on the Skagit River.

12/1909 Melvin Nelson Letter RE: The Skagit Flood of 1909 A personal experience of the 1909 flood.
12/10/1909 Grace E. Nelson Letter About the 1909 Flood “Your letter which we got has been up in Mt Vernon for three days, the mail came today for the first time this week. We have had an aful flood the worst I ever saw. It was in peoples houses so far up that they had to come to the ridge. La Conner is all so flooded. The water has gone down on this side but on the other side the tide comes in from the slough, so it backs up to the ridge.”
2/7/1961 Ltr to Corps fm Skagit Soil Conservation District with attached report of land damage caused by the 1951 flood This is perhaps the best description of the 1951 flood that we have reviewed to date.  Important to remember is that in 1951 there was no Upper Baker Dam and the levees were nowhere near as large as they are now.  Dike 12 levees were in some locations 4,000 ft. from the river and not over 6 feet tall.  The report stated Ross Dam provided only 35,000 acre feet of storage
Skagit River Flooding:  An Overview by Skagit County Rural Development Committee Given what the committee had to work with in 1976 this was a pretty good attempt at documenting the flood issue in Skagit County.  However, given what we know now it would not stand historical challenges.  Such as: they rely heavily on the Steward Report.  They did not know that Stewarts Report was unfinished, or that Mr. Stewart was dead at the time the report was published, nor the fact that Mr. Bodhaine had never been to Skagit County.

Given the fact that the entire document was printed in the SVH in weekly installments one has to wonder why no one paid any attention to what the document had to say with respect to development in the floodplain that now burdens the taxpayer with multi-millions to protect that same development.  The irony is that if the dike districts and the cities and towns get their way they will be promoting even more development that in the long run will cost the taxpayers even more money.
6/1977 U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Report on Floods of December 1975 and January 1976 Partial report containing sections pertinent to the Skagit River.  Storm began on 29th of November and lasted to the 4th of December.  "Baker River Basin amounts to 11 percent of the Skagit river drainage." . . ."Outflow from Lake Shannon continued to increase. . .24,800 c.f.s..". . . "Without flood control regulation by Ross Dam and the Baker River Projects, the flood peak would have been about 39.9 feet (147,000 c.f.s.), 3 feet higher than the observed peak."  Third highest peak since 1940.  One of the more interesting things about this report is the areas they had to sandbag to keep the levees from failing.
9/27/1977 Corps ltr to Seattle Times re inaccuracies in their 9/16/77 editorial title "Ray's Ill-Advised Dip in Skagit River Issue" in which the Times reported that the Skagit had experienced a "100 yr flood" The levees along the Skagit River passed the 10-year peak flow in December 1975 only because of the successful flood fighting efforts of citizens and local, state, and federal agencies.. flood damages in the Skagit River Basin were estimated at $3,247,000.  Damages from a 100-year event would have been about $35,000,000," based on 1975 price levels.  Utilizing the authorized flood control storage behind Baker Dam will raise the level of protection to between 5 and 21 years. Adding the authorized levee and channel improvements would raise the protection to between 11 and 100 years. Addition of the authorized Avon bypass project that passes 60,000 c.f.s. to Padilla Bay would raise the protection to between 55 and 100 years.
5/1992 Neal Hamburg May 1992 Testimony Before Joint Select Committee on Flood Damage Reduction A great oral history of dike districts' means of operating/modus operandi.

The reason we're not elevating is an old (intelligible) problem by the bend there. We don't have the understructure underneath the dikes to hold more than a 25 year flood, not in our area. We have boil ups that will raise anywhere from 10 feet from the dike to 150 to 200 yards inside. So we're about the level that we are going to be.
If either of you were going to spend 5 million dollars to raise the dike level to 100 years level, I am sure that he would be at my door or calling me quite rapidly because his tax statement would reflect that and he would well know that it was going to be ineffective and he would be followed by probably another 150 people very promptly. So there are regulatory things that aren't written but they're there.
8/11/2002 History of Flood Control Projects Studied

Document lists the flood control studies and the main theme looked at in each study.

5/1/2005 History of Countywide Flood Control Districts (see also County Documents)

Using the Historical Newspaper Article Index I pulled out just the articles that dealt with the historical formation of countywide flood control zone districts.

5/15/2005 Historical Floods Of The Skagit River (1892 through 1951)

This is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of historical information on individual flood events of the Skagit River ever assembled. 98% of this document comes from direct quotes obtained from local newspapers.


Historical Rainfall & Its Impact on Floods (1896-1969)

The purpose of this document is to look at historical articles and try and determine how much rain it takes to create a flood on the Skagit River. The best answer to the question of how much rain it takes is “It depends.”

6/23/2008 Skagit River Reports (Past studies, reports, documents)

This document identifies the examinations, reports, studies, GDM, and other documents written about the Skagit River and was updated with 34 new reports spanning between 4/9/2003 and 2/28/2008. Most of these documents I have copies of and am willing to make available upon request. The original list of Jan. 24 1999 was compiled with Corps of Engineers assistance.

8/10/2009 El Nino, La Nina & Normal Flood Years -- 1900-2004 Document compares El Nino to La Nina and our normal flood years.  The document shows us that almost all of our major flood events happened in so-called normal years.
4/15/2011 Flooding in Western Washington: The Connection to Atmospheric Rivers “This study utilizes multiple decades of daily streamflow data gathered in four major watersheds in western Washington to determine the meteorological conditions most likely to cause flooding in those watersheds. ...  The flooding on the four watersheds occurred during the landfall of ARs [Atmospheric Rivers] within the warm sectors of extratropical cyclones that were accompanied by warm advection, lower-tropospheric temperatures 4-6°C above normal, strong low-level water vapor fluxes from over the Pacific, and low-level moist-neutral stability. The enhanced onshore vapor fluxes and weak static stability provided a favorable environment for orographic precipitation enhancement across the region’s steep terrain. More generally, all peak daily flows that exceeded a 5-year return period on non-consecutive days in each of the four basins of interest between WY1980-2009 were associated with landfalling ARs.”

One of those basins of interest was the Sauk River.