Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Howard Hanson Dam: $44 million in repairs approved, means "one more winter" of higher-than-normal flood risk

For the past year, we've been closely following the situation with south King County's Howard Hanson Dam. The short form: A weakened earthen abutment to the dam means that during heavy rains, the Army Corps of Engineers may have to spill more water than usual from the nearly 50-year-old dam to avoid stressing it. That extra water translates into a higher-than-normal flood risk in the Green River Valley.

Last week, President Obama signed a bill that includes $44 million for repairs to the dam. The Corps and contractors have already done substantial work to shore up the abutment with a "grout curtain," which sounds like it's sort of an underground wall of concrete.

The next step, according to a story in the Kent Reporter newspaper, is to install new drains to help relieve a leak through the earthen abutment. Col. Anthony Wright, commander of the Corps' Seattle district, told the newspaper that "After completion of these drains, I believe I can operate the dam at its full design capacity."

That will come as a relief to homeowners and business owners in the heavily developed valley. The latter, in particular, reported difficulty finding flood insurance last winter.

In response, we huddled with state lawmakers, the governor, and more than two dozen insurance companies. The result: the Washington Flood Market Assistance Plan, which is a sort of matchmaking service between Green River Valley businesses needing more flood coverage and insurers willing to sell it.

If you're a business in the area and need flood insurance advice, feel free to contact us at 1-800-562-6900. (We're not an insurer or agent; we're the Washington state agency that regulates the insurance industry.)

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