The Chehalis River is the second largest river in Washington State and one of the only remaining free flowing major rivers on the west coast.
It is one of the biggest producers of wild (non-hatchery) salmon in the state. It contains 31 salmonid stocks, and supports spawning of wild spring Chinook, fall Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. None of the salmon stocks are currently listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, however salmon in the Chehalis Basin have seriously declined 50 to 80% due to overfishing, unregulated timber harvest, and habitat destruction. It is estimated that the Basin’s spring run Chinook could be functionally extinct by the end of the century unless action is taken.
Chinook salmon from the Chehalis River are part of the Washington Coast stock which is listed as a priority stock for the endangered Southern Resident orcas, and satellite tagging has shown that Southern Resident orcas feed off Grays Harbor where the Chehalis River enters the Pacific Ocean.
Due to frequent and sometimes catastrophic flooding in the region, the Chehalis Basin Board is proposing the construction of a “flood retention facility” (dam) to mitigate the effects of floods.
The proposed dam would drown 6 miles of critical salmon and steelhead habitat, result in increased temperature and decreased dissolved oxygen and would permanently eliminate many acres of habitat. It would only protect a small percentage of homes and businesses in the Chehalis Basin, primarily those located along the I-5 corridor. The proposed project requires both state and federal permits, and both of those processes are currently underway. Out of concern for the impacts this dam would have on the river, salmon, local tribes, and Southern Resident orcas, a coalition of concerned citizens, Tribes, and local organizations formed the Chehalis River Alliance.
In July 2020, Governor Inslee expressed concern about the construction of a dam and directed the Chehalis Basin Board to work with local tribes to develop non-dam alternatives. As a result, the LAND (Local Actions Non-Dam) Steering Committee is currently meeting to develop sustainable flood reduction projects in the Chehalis Basin.
Here is how you can help stop the construction of the Chehalis River flood retention facility:
· Learn more about the Chehalis Basin and the proposed dam at www.chehalisriveralliance.org
· Watch the documentary Chehalis: A Watershed Moment on Amazon Prime
· Contact your local Washington legislators, and Governor Inslee’s office and let them know that you oppose the construction of a dam on the Chehalis River, and that you support local non-dam alternatives that will mitigate flooding while protecting and restoring important salmon habitat.
o Contact your legislator: Legislative Information Center Contacting Your Legislators (wa.gov)
o Contact Governor Inslee’s office: Contacting the Governor | Governor Jay Inslee (wa.gov)
· Chehalis Basin Strategy Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet
· Proposed Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project, 2020
· Northwest Fisheries Science Center satellite tagging blog