Whatcom County faced historic flooding last week which forced school closures, road closures and damage to an estimated 500 homes. Atmospheric rain brought the worst flooding in 30 years and the county is now in the process of damage assessment.
In a media event on Nov. 23, local officials provided updates on the recovery efforts.
District One U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene said the community is at a greater risk in the future as flooding will be more prevalent in Whatcom County.
Rep. DelBene said officials need to begin looking at the long-term effort in preparations, noting the recent infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress, which provides applicable funding.
The amount of federal assistance the county will receive depends on what is documented, and Rep. DelBene is encouraging those who have suffered damage to report it.
Rep. DelBene said the community really came together during this time to help one another and 42nd District Representative Alicia Rule saw the same.
“I want to thank the first responders, local government and community members that have stepped up to help in this time of crisis,” Rule said in an email. “When the floods cut off our region from the rest of the state, our community worked together to help those in need.”
Rep. Rule said she will be working as a strong advocate in all levels of government to bring relief to the neighborhoods and businesses affected.
Karina Shagren, communications director for the Washington Military Department, said in an email the state will begin to work with local jurisdictions and tribes in conducting preliminary damage assessments.
“These assessments will give us an idea of total damages and cost estimates, and will inform whether we meet thresholds for federal assistance,” Shagren said. “In the meantime, our State Emergency Operations Center is activated at a Level 1- full activation.”
John Gargett, with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, said they could estimate from their early findings that the flood has already exceeded the level of damage from the 1990 flood, which was in the $25 million range.
Gargett explained that damage assessments are difficult to gather this early, and the process will take time.
“So far – we’ve helped coordinate the delivery of things like water, food, medication and fuel,” Shargren said. “We’ve also provided local partners with added personnel.”
42nd District Representative Sharon Shewmake said the state has been addressing the flooding threat in floodplains with the project Floodplains by Design.
Floodplains by Design is working on a new approach for floodplain protection and restoration following environmental impacts from climate change.
Rep. Shewmake said they have just completed phase one of the project and recently funded phase two in the last budget.
“Some places we just never anticipated it would be that high,” Shewmake said. “I think we need to plan for places for the water to go and that’s a hard hydrology project, hard infrastructure project and a hard funding project.”
A big piece of that, Rep Shewmake said, is raising Slater Road which floods every year and has the potential to completely cut off access to the Lummi Reservation, which happened for a couple days in this last flooding.
“We need to start planning for bigger floods in our future, we lost a lot of infrastructure and we’re going to need to be thinking about flood resiliency in a lot of ways,” Rep. Shewmake said.
Bella Neff (she/her) is a third-year student studying journalism and political science, and reporting on city news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.