Dungeness River rises to new flood plan

The Dungeness River has chameleon-like capabilities. In the summer, it camouflages itself in drought-like conditions but in the winter and spring, its water rises quicker than a car trip to Seattle.

These days, much quicker, and handling its impact requires a change in tactics.

"It's not about controlling a flood because you can't control a flood, but we can minimize its impact," said Hannah Merrill, natural resources planner for Clallam County.

A new flood plan, the Dungeness River Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan 2009, updates a 1990 flood control plan. A 2003 update was in process until grant funds ran out. The Washington State Department of Ecology Flood Control Assistance Account Program continued funding for the plan in 2008.

"Over the past two decades, the focus has changed. The Dungeness River and floods in general are not controllable," Merrill said.

"The Dungeness redirects itself and it will continue to flood."

The plan does not set regulations for people living along the river but it recommends the following actions:

_ Update maps of the flood hazard areas and channel migration zone.

_ Protect people, and property and habitat from erosion.

_ Improve and provide ongoing education to landowners along the river.

_ Purchase high-risk flood hazard and high-value habitat areas.

_ Continue and expand monitoring the river's corridor.

Comments on the plan were expressed at an April 30 informational meeting at the Pioneer Memorial Park clubhouse in Sequim. About 25 property and/or business owners along the Dungeness attended.

Some participants expressed anger about the possibility of being unable to build on their property near the river. But Merrill and Cathy Lear, a planning biologist for Clallam County, said that the plan does not recommend implementing any building codes and uses the county's current regulations as references.

The plan does recommend that setbacks for structures like garages and homes be measured from the edge of the channel migration zone rather than the ordinary high water mark - the point along a riverbed where the presence of water is so common that the soil and vegetation is distinct from the abutting upland.

The ordinary high water mark is a fixed point that does not change as the river shifts.

The channel migration zone is the outermost boundary that the river has used historically or potentially will use through bank erosion or forming new channels. "We can see where the river has gone in the past so now we can map it out better," Merrill said.

No new buffers or distances would be implemented at this time, Merrill said.

When/if county commissioners approve the plan in June, grant money could become available to the county.

Merrill said new grants could purchase property in the flood plain - but is difficult because each site is so different.

People living along the river would not be forced to relinquish or sell their land if the plan is approved, Merrill said.

Homes currently along the river would not need to be moved to comply with the proposed changes in development distances.

However, all future developments, even on existing properties, would need to comply.

The plan is under review until May 22. by State Environmental Policy Act members.

A public hearing will take place at a county commissioners' meeting in June. Check or call Merrill at 417-2563 for a set time.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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