The Federal Emergency Management Agency should augment local efforts to respond to the risks associated with the storm damage to the Green River Valley and Howard Hanson Dam, write U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert and Adam Smith.

Share story

FLOOD season is nearly here, and local, state and federal officials continue working to prepare for the threat posed by the potential storm damage to the Green River Valley and the Howard Hanson Dam. At a time of heightened flood risk, these efforts to address infrastructure vulnerabilities, personal safety and economic impact — particularly at the local level — are to be commended. Yet more remains to be done to ensure our people and our region will successfully weather any storm Mother Nature has in store.

It is critical that citizens, local officials and emergency teams are prepared to address the personal and economic impact of potential storm damage should the dam or levees fail. For this reason, we have urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct an emergency preparedness and response exercise in the Green River Valley in coordination with King County, the state Emergency Management Department, local cities and other federal agencies.

An exercise of this nature would include simulating effects of a large-scale flood in the valley and anticipating how best to prepare individuals and businesses. Such an exercise would also allow officials and emergency-response teams to identify evacuation routes and how roads will be cleared, how and where evacuees will be sheltered, how injured people will receive medical care, and other necessary elements for quick, effective recovery.

In the short term, the Army Corps of Engineers has provided funds to purchase sandbags and other temporary barriers, but the threat of catastrophic flooding must not be taken lightly. As the Corps works to assess and repair the damages to and weaknesses of the Howard Hanson Dam, cities located within the Green River Valley have been notified of a scenario that may require the release of more water than usual during extreme rains.

This has the potential to result in catastrophic flooding that could affect tens of thousands of individuals. Some estimates show the potential for lost economic output of $46 million per day and up to $2 billion in property damage. Companies and facilities affected may include Boeing, Fed Ex, Starbucks, Safeway, DHL, Sysco, and Medical Supply Distribution — a company that provides a substantial amount of Harborview Medical Center’s supplies.

The economic impact alone could cripple our region for months. The federal government must do everything in its power to prepare the people, the resources and the infrastructure of our region to respond.

The long-term needs in the Green River Valley are being addressed. The Corps estimates it will take three to five years to sufficiently repair the weakened dam. Local preparedness will remain a top priority for years to come.

While we will work with the state’s senators and appropriate federal agencies to ensure that all necessary resources are focused on shoring up infrastructure vulnerabilities to protect individuals and businesses, it is also important that individuals take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their property as well.

We strongly recommend that individuals acquire flood insurance, which can be purchased through FEMA at There is typically a 30-day waiting period before a policy goes into effect once it is purchased, so it is imperative that residents and businesses get coverage before the rainy season kicks into high gear.

The threat of flooding from the weakened Howard Hanson Dam is real. It is therefore imperative that all levels of government act swiftly and in full coordination to prepare and protect the citizens and resources of the Green River valley, and FEMA should answer the call to assist our region as we prepare for the coming flood season.

Rep. Dave Reichert represents the 8th Congressional District and Rep. Adam Smith represents the 9th District.