As earth-moving equipment roared in the background, King County officials gathered along the Green River in Kent Tuesday to explain how...

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As earth-moving equipment roared in the background, King County officials gathered along the Green River in Kent Tuesday to explain how the region is acting to prevent flooding before next winter’s storms arrive.

The location was picked partly because of the extensive work to strengthen levees in the Green River Valley and also to emphasize the economic devastation that could result from uncontrolled flooding.

“We don’t want to have King County repeat the natural disasters that have happened along the Mississippi [River] and in other areas,” said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Julia Patterson, who also is chairwoman of the King County Flood Control Zone District. “These corridors are the economic lifeline of the state of Washington.”

The Green River Valley is home to the state’s largest warehouse district and carries hundreds of millions of dollars of freight on highways and railroads, along with providing thousands of jobs, she said.

“Flooding in this area would have an amazingly devastating effect on the entire region,” she said.

To prevent flooding, the county has undertaken 55 flood-control projects this year involving levee repairs and other work, totaling some $15 million in flood-zone funding, plus additional funds from the Army Corps of Engineers. The work Tuesday along the Green River is one such example, involving 3,600 linear feet of levee improvements in an $8 million project known as the Kent Shops-Narita levee.

The shortcomings of the levees became vividly apparent during winter storms in 2006 and 2007, when cracks appeared in the top of one levee, threatening to flood Kent.

That led to the consolidation of smaller flood-control districts, often run by individual cities, into the county district in 2007 and an immense increase in flood-prevention work, officials explained.

Only about two or three projects a year were possible earlier, said Patterson, with just $600,000 available for flood-control work in 2007. Now the work has jumped to 55 projects under way this year, with a countywide property tax providing much of the funding.

Crews directed by the Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Kent Shops-Narita project about three weeks ago and expect to be done by mid-September.

Other projects extend from Skykomish in the north to Auburn in the southern part of the county, and include 11 on the Cedar River, 19 on the Snoqualmie River, eight on the Raging River and four on the White River, said Marc Isaacson, the county’s water-and-land-resources division director. It will take years to complete all the improvements.

“We’re not waiting for an event like [Hurricane] Katrina,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com