‘It’s not sustainable’: Destructive flooding highlights need for solutions in Whatcom County

Nov 29, 2021, 6:24 AM | Updated: Nov 30, 2021, 11:29 am
Flooding, Whatcom County...
Flooding in Sumas from mid-November. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

River levels are finally receding on Tuesday, as Whatcom County leaders begin to lay out plans for much-needed changes in the future following historic flooding in the region.

Whatcom County resident recounts having to leave home by boat amid devastating flood

Early-week rain has had Whatcom County residents under a voluntary evacuation order, although most of the prominent flooding this time around has largely been limited to roadways. Moving forward, towns like Sumas hope they can find a fix for what have been upsettingly common flooding problems over the last few years.

“We can’t just not address the issues,” Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen told KIRO Radio. “We’ve got to look for some permanent solutions.”

It’s estimated that flooding in mid-November affected 75% of homes in Sumas, with many residents having to be rescued by boats and tractors.

The nearby town of Everson faced similar issues, with Mayor John Perry echoing Christensen’s sentiment regarding the need for action.

“Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas took the brunt of these last two floods, and it’s not sustainable,” Perry told KIRO Radio. “We can’t keep rebuilding homes in these areas, so there’s going to be a lot of discussion coming up in the coming weeks and months.”

“I anticipate it being pretty important for us to move forward as quickly as possible on it,” he added.

A flood warning remains in effect for the Skagit River near Mount Vernon as of early Tuesday morning, with rivers in Skagit and Whatcom counties expected to “continue to recede tonight.” The good news is that rain from over the weekend won’t likely push rivers to the flood levels the northern counties saw two weeks ago.

As KIRO 7 TV meteorologist Nick Allard noted Monday morning: “For the most part, the rivers have crested.”

“When you crest, you hit your highest point, then you slowly start to come down,” he continued. “The Skagit is the only river left where you’re kind of at the moderate category, or it will be when it crests. Otherwise, minor flooding, and the rivers will be on the way down.”

How Lynden church helped rally community as destructive flood swept across region

This time around, there are fewer concerns over significant damage to homes and businesses, with local officials more worried about flooding in roads.

“There’s just no more places for the water to go,” Whatcom County flood responder spokesperson Marie Duckworth told KIRO 7 TV at the start of the week. “All of our retention ponds, our ditches, flood plains — all of these things are full at this point and are starting to creep up to our roadways.”

With up to an inch and a half of rain in the forecast for both Skagit and Whatcom counties on Tuesday, neither area is fully out of the woods for this week.

“The tricky thing is, more than likely, these same spots will see some issues after the rain we have coming in for tomorrow,” Allard cautioned.

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‘It’s not sustainable’: Destructive flooding highlights need for solutions in Whatcom County