ORTING — As heavy rain threatens to flood rivers this winter, many flood-plain managers are trying to work with nature, rather than against it, to keep waterways from overflowing.
Instead of relying on dikes, levees and other engineered structures to protect communities, some cities and counties are taking a different tack. They’re giving rivers more room to meander by setting back levees and buying up nearby land that can absorb floodwaters. They’re also adding trees and other vegetation and reconnecting rivers to flood plains.
In 2013, the state Legislature set aside $44 million for the Floodplains by Design program, a partnership between the Department of Ecology, Nature Conservancy and Puget Sound Partnership.
Projects in Whatcom, King, Yakima, Kittitas, Wahkiakum and other counties are using that state and other money to reduce flooding, while also improving water quality, restoring fish habitat, preserving farmland and opening up public access.
“Already we’re seeing nothing but great results,” said Ken Wolfe, building official for the city of Orting, 20 miles southeast of Tacoma. “Past practices didn’t pencil out very well. Giving the river back what it used to have is the best way to approach flood control.”