Important Opportunities to Protect Floodplains and Local Communities This Month

Between now and February 14 there are several important opportunities to provide input on repairing and modernizing the Columbia River Levee System which extends from Portland to Troutdale and protects more than 24,000 acres of historic bottom-land habitat from flooding

Like many levee systems, this one was designed with little consideration of the environment. Thanks to strong input from Portland Audubon Activists and other advocates last year, the Oregon Legislature created a new Flood Safety and Water Quality District to upgrade and manage this important system with a clear mandate to integrate environmental restoration, environmental justice, and climate resiliency into its mission. 

Belted Kingfisher, photo by Tara Lemezis

The US Army Corps of Engineers and Levee Ready Columbia have just released a plan to repair the levee system so that it can meet national standards for recertification. Unfortunately the proposed plan that has been released fails to address either environmental or environmental justice goals. In fact, the Corps eliminated all green strategies for floodplain protection in the preliminary round of review, claiming that they were outside of its mandate. Put simply, the US Army Corps is proposing to perpetuate the same types of ecologically destructive approaches to flood control that it has been doing for decades which have repeatedly failed to adequately protect communities. 

The Corps has also provided inadequate time for public review of this complex document—just 39-days for a plan that will cost more than $157 million and take more than 3.5 years to complete.  That is outrageous for a plan that will have profound impacts on our environment and our communities. 

We are still in the process of reviewing this complex plan and will get more detailed comments out in the coming days. However, given the pace of this process, it is important that the Corps and Levee Ready hear from the public now. 

Submit Comments

The Corps’ public comment period will run until Friday, February 14, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. To submit comments, email PMLS-Feasibility@usace.army.mil

Click here to view full size version of the Levee Map.

Among our specific concerns are the following:

  • The Plan fails to consider any green strategies for addressing flooding including floodplain reconnection and green infrastructure. It simply relies on bigger walls, bigger levees and bigger pumps.
  • The Plan fails to provide any mitigation for natural resource impacts caused by expanding the levee system including removal of hundreds of trees, floodplain degradation and fish and wildlife impacts.
  • The Plan fails to account for the costs (potentially tens of millions of dollars) of cleaning up 23 contaminated sites that will be impacted by this project and that local jurisdictions will be responsible for delivering to the Corps free of hazardous materials.
  • The Plan ignores environmental justice issues despite the fact that this area includes the site of one of Oregon’s most notorious historic environmental injustices—the flooding of Vanport.
  • Despite a mandate for the new Flood District to improve environmental health, this plan is built on an explicit assumption that our communities will become more environmentally degraded over time.
  • The Corps ignored lower cost, more environmentally responsible plans in favor of a  $157.5 million mega plan that degrades the environment.

Key Messages

  • The public review and comment period is too short. Thirty nine days is outrageous for a plan that will cost more than $157 million and have huge impacts on our community and environment.
  • The plan fails to address the new Flood Safety and Water Quality District’s mandate to integrate environmental restoration, environmental justice, and landscape resiliency into its mission as mandated by the Oregon legislature.
  • The plan fails to adequately address significant negative environmental impacts that will be caused by the proposed levee “upgrades” including removal of a large number of trees, floodplains, shallow water habitat, and federally listed salmon species.
  • The Corps and Levee Ready must develop an alternative that integrates environmental restoration, environmental justice, landscape resiliency and which fully mitigates any environmental harm caused by this project.

It is time for a 21st century approach to flood management! Thank you for speaking out.