County moves to ease flooding on Puyallup River

Pierce County crews and contractors are working on a short list of projects along the Puyallup River and its tributaries as the first of a series of projects designed to reduce flood risk and improve salmon habitat.

“County staff and crews work hard to provide flood protection for private property and critical public facilities such as roads and bridges,” said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “Our goal is to design and maintain systems that keep people and property out of harm’s way in the event of a major flood. These projects along the Puyallup River will reduce flood risk, among other important benefits.”

With the end of the annual salmon run along the river, construction began in July on a 2,000-foot-long side along the west side of the Puyallup River near Orting.

"This project will reduce flood risk in the area, restore floodplain and provide salmon habitat," said Harold Smelt, Public Works and Utilities surface water manager.

Construction will continue until fall and then resume next summer in an effort to avoid the salmon migration in the winter and spring months. During construction, large trucks and heavy equipment will reach the project site via South Fork Road, crossing the Foothills Trail just north of the McMillin Trailhead and State Route 162 bridge. Flaggers will be onsite to direct truck traffic and trail users.

The project will be completed in multiple phases. The first phase will cost $1.62 million. Pierce County received a $719,000 grant from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to design and construct the first phase. The county will pursue additional grant funding to complete the channel in separate phases northward. Ceccanti, Inc. is the contractor for the first phase.

The side channel that will dovetail with another project that uses engineered log jams to prevent damage to Orville Road between Electron Road and 249th Street East. Work on that project began this month. Crews will construct engineered logjams along about a 700-foot-long stretch of the riverbank to prevent damage to the roadway. Many property owners depend on Orville for access to the area. Active Construction, Inc. has been hired to construct the project, which will cost $1.2 million.

Throughout the summer, Pierce County maintenance crews will work on smaller projects along the major rivers in Pierce County to maintain and repair flood protection infrastructure. Work includes clearing and planting vegetation, and repairing and re-enforcing levees. This all takes time. And it takes money. Lots of money.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to have a roster of needed work along the Puyallup River drafted later this year, the latest step in what has been a three-year project so far. The ballpark for the work is expected to be several hundred million dollars.

“We don’t have the money to do the big projects,” said Brian Ziegler, Public Works and Utilities Director and Flood Control Zone District Administrator.

The flood district has 22 priority projects along the river but is only expected to bring in about $5 million a year through a property tax increase that began this year. Projects are ranked on their cost and the potential of costly flood damage if they were left undone. River Road’s levee, for example, is high on the priority list but its cost of $80 million to $100 million will require federal, state, local and tribal partnerships to phase the work as money becomes available.

“It’s definitely going to take a partnership,” Ziegler said.

Federal, state and local environmental regulations require construction work along rivers and waterways only be done during the summer to avoid impacts to salmon. The path of the Puyallup has changed greatly during the 100 years of development in East Pierce County, dramatically limiting the natural habitat salmon require. The channels and logjams will provide slower running water and pools young salmon seek for rest during their migration up river to lay their eggs. The channels also provide Chinook and other large salmon species with new spawning grounds in an effort to boost fish production of the threatened species.

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