Rising tide: Residents of the Lower Columbia estuary confront a shifting landscape

Residents, experts strategize in public workshop


September 28, 2023

Diana Zimmerman

A group from the Gray's River area near Altoona/Pillar Rock Road discussed the various ways they are impacted by flooding and how best to resolve those problems.

Westend residents turned out last Tuesday for the second workshop in a planned series of four to talk about how flooding is impacting the property and lives of people living in the Grays River, Rosburg, and Deep River communities and to brainstorm ways to tackle the issue.

Jackson Blalock of the Pacific Conservation District led the workshop with the assistance of representatives from his conservation district, the Washington Sea Grant organization, and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

"Much of this evening will be attendees sharing insights and providing ideas to guide our work as we move forward," Blalock said.

Blalock explained that Washington Sea Grant received funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation when working on flooding at the Ilwaco marina. This led to a realization that sea level rise was impacting the Lower Columbia River in Baker and Grays Bays.

According to Blalock, impacts of sea level rise include coastal flooding and wetter and saltier soils. Another impact is habitat loss as habitats move upland or disappear because of erosion or deposition.

He explained that human activities can have an effect as well and that problems can be exacerbated by precipitation, which is projected to become heavier and more frequent.

The grant allows Blalock and his colleagues not only to look at existing issues, but also potential ones. They want to look for ways to address those problems alongside the people who are impacted, while empowering those same people to take an active approach in the problem solving.

"The goal of the project is to reduce changing water level's impact on people and habitat by supporting projects and assisting local planning," Blalock said. "Overall we're here to listen to folks and help folks have conversations, and help organize those thoughts into something that can be useful to get funds or whatever else."

Using maps from the first workshop, people pinpointed and described the issues they were seeing related to flooding. With that information on hand at this second workshop, participants considered the themes particular to their community, and brainstormed ways they might respond.

Of concern at one table were agricultural loss, emergency service access, erosion, shifting rivers, septic systems, and culvert removal.

Diana Zimmerman

Westend residents turned out for the second workshop to discuss flooding issues in their communities.

Participants continued through a series of activities which essentially culminated with a question: what would you do to address this problem you are describing?

The worksheets were then displayed and everyone on the room was given stickers to vote on the ideas they liked most.

Blalock read the solutions that got the most votes for each community. They included: increasing buffers, planting trees, ceasing building in the flood plain, and seeking congressional authorization for dredging. Additionally, improving stream function, communicating and organizing with the forest practice board about watershed effects, and having a bigger voice and more monitoring activities.

Blalock and his team plan to continue the conversation at the next workshop, which will be scheduled for January 2024.


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