The most jarring visual image of this week’s torrential rain in parts of the state came from Snoqualmie Falls. Many a video posted on social media showed the Snoqualmie River in King County surging over the 268-foot falls, placing the recent storms into an easily understood context.
But the impact of the downpour that soaked northwest Washington extended well beyond the falls. Portions of the city of Snoqualmie were evacuated; the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula declared a state of emergency on its reservation; and flooding was reported on at least a dozen rivers. Perhaps more important, in a roundabout way it illuminated the issues of government spending and taxes and how citizens work together as a society.
But first, the tangible effect of the storms: Rainfall in parts of the southwest Olympics — traditionally one of the wettest portions of the continental United States — was reported at 13 inches in the span of about 24 hours, damaging homes and hampering driving and commerce. Rail service between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., was suspended because of the threat of mudslides, and rocks that tumbled down a slope caused Interstate 90 to be closed for a while near Snoqualmie Pass.
While the harsh weather largely missed Southwest Washington this time around, it did provide some lessons for this part of the state. Although Clark County is fortunate to not be subject to the kind of rainfall that can be dumped upon the Olympic Range, rain remains a way of life here. It is the lifeblood of this region, driving traditional industries such as timber and fishing, and annually replenishing the Columbia River that is this area’s signature landmark. As the saying goes, everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it — and this region would be much different if they did.
The next time, we might be the ones subjected to biblical rainfall and the troubles that come with it. As an editorial in The Columbian recently noted, we are not immune to landslides and flooding. And it wasn’t that many years ago that heavy snowfall in the Cascades, followed by a quick thaw, caused flooding up and down the Columbia.
All of that should be considered as a new Congress convenes this week and as a new Legislature is seated in Olympia next week. Republicans now have control of both houses in Washington, D.C., and their party has extended its influence in this state. And while many GOP members won election upon a platform of austerity and lower taxes and decreased government spending, the need for emergency services in this case serves as an example of the importance of collective societal spending.
Government plays a crucial role in flood and mudslide prevention, in the response to natural disasters, and in the rebuilding that is required in the wake of such disasters. Some tasks are too large for individuals, requiring a joint effort that is the mark of a civilized society.
Arguments about taxes and about spending are still to come from the august bodies that represent the people and make laws, but in the meantime we can be thankful for the fact that we live in a climate where the rain produces lush scenery and abundant agriculture. We can be thankful for the beauty that is inherent in this part of the country, and rejoice in the fact that unlike, say, much of California, we don’t have to worry about a parched landscape.
The rain is what makes this area so stunning. But, as the view of Snoqualmie Falls demonstrates, this week’s storm was a bit much even for our tastes.