The first European settlers in Skagit County built dikes and levees to protect farmland from floods. The Skagit River was a transportation waterway, causing towns and cities to be built on its banks. In the past century, the population of Skagit County has grown from 14,272 to 102,979 with significant development in the flood plain.
Damages today from a 100-year-flood event would carry significantly larger economic and ecological risks because of the significant population growth that has taken place. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been actively seeking a solution for flood control in the Skagit Valley since 1922. Due to funding requirements and lack of local consensus a solution for 100-year flood protection has not been implemented.
A 100-year flood event in Skagit County could potentially:
- Stop traffic on Interstate 5, SR-20 and SR-9. 23,000 commuter trips take place each day to and from Fidalgo Island. I-5 is utilized by 65,000 vehicles each day. Highway closures and resulting traffic delays due to a 100 year flood event are estimated to cost over $15,000,000. Army Corps of Engineers, August 2001.
- Shut down sewers, wastewater treatment, and major storm water pumping systems would cease to function.
- Shut down the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant could be down for up to 45 days or more, cutting off water to the Cities of Anacortes and Oak Harbor, the Town of La Conner, both petroleum refineries and NAS Whidbey.
- Devastate the economy of the entire region. Damages could exceed $1 billion dollars and thousands of people would be unable to get to work. Water, road, railroad and pipeline transportation to the refineries would be in jeopardy forcing shutdowns for an industry employing more than 800 workers with annual payrolls exceeding $57 million. Washington State exports to Canada are worth approximately $6.6 billion and overland imports exceed $14.3 billion annually. 95% of all commercial goods between British Columbia and Washington are shipped overland. Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development.
Skagit County is working on a solution to the Skagit flood risk that will save lives and property and is environmentally friendly.