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Jaime Herrera Beutler Presses for Federal Assistance with Cowlitz River Sediment Management Plan

Lack of funding for sediment monitoring increases flood risk for homes, businesses; places burden on local and county governments

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Vancouver, August 6, 2020 | comments

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has formally pressed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) request to reprogram funding for sediment monitoring and predesign work for the sediment retention structure (SRS) on the Lower Cowlitz River. 

Sediment monitoring of the Lower Cowlitz River provides vital information of the sediment retention structure’s ability to protect communities throughout Cowlitz County from potential devastating and life-threatening floods, resulting from the build-up of sediment in the river from the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

In the letter to OMB Director Russell Vought, Herrera Beutler highlights that without critical federal funding for this work, local communities have had to bear the brunt of the cost to complete sediment monitoring. With the devastating effects of COVID-19, county and local government revenue will make it nearly impossible to fund this important work. 

“Without federal funding this year for the necessary sediment monitoring and predesign work for the raising of the SRS, these local communities will again be forced to put up local dollars to cover for what is supposedly a federal commitment. In any typical year, finding funding for these activities is difficult at best, and the COVID-19 related effects on county and local government revenues this year will make it nearly impossible. Counties and towns should not be forced to divert funds from other vital community services to make up for the lack of consistent federal support for sediment monitoring and SRS improvements,” Herrera Beutler wrote.

Herrera Beutler has continued to be a vocal advocate on this issue, specifically requesting funding for sediment monitoring, and recently pressing for answers as to why USACE and OMB failed to include funding for sediment monitoring in the 2020 Corps work plan.

The full text of the letter follows, and a PDF is available here.

Dear Director Vought,

I write to express my support for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) request to reprogram funding for sediment monitoring and predesign work for the raising of the sediment retention structure (SRS) on the Lower Cowlitz River in Cowlitz County, Washington state. 

As I have highlighted in past letters to you on this subject, funding was authorized by Congress in 1985 for sediment control in the Mount St. Helens Construction Account. Congress also authorized USACE to construct, operate, and maintain the SRS to reduce the risk of flood for communities like Longview, Kelso, Castle Rock, and Lexington. Proper flood control requires yearly monitoring to ensure that river levels do not reach a point that could threaten communities with a significant flood event or risk the viability of the SRS that protects these communities. Unfortunately, federal agencies have not reliably provided funding for this vital work, creating uncertainty and an undue financial burden for local communities most at risk from the impacts of flooding. 

Last year, the local county government and several community partners were forced to commit $120,000 to partially complete some of the sediment monitoring work after the federal government failed to provide the funding. The results of their study found that flood protection levels are below federally authorized levels near some of the communities at risk. Additionally, USACE anticipates needing to raise the sediment retention structure another ten feet in the coming years to further protect cities and towns from potentially devastating floods.    

Without federal funding this year for the necessary sediment monitoring and predesign work for the raising of the SRS, these local communities will again be forced to put up local dollars to cover for what is supposedly a federal commitment. In any typical year, finding funding for these activities is difficult at best, and the COVID-19 related effects on county and local government revenues this year will make it nearly impossible. Counties and towns should not be forced to divert funds from other vital community services to make up for the lack of consistent federal support for sediment monitoring and SRS improvements.          

Failing to address the risk to impacted communities not only threatens them with the uncertainty of flooding but fails to give them the peace of mind that the monitoring can provide. I ask that you approve the USACE reprogramming request to ensure these communities can be properly protected.

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