With New Levy, Orting Hopes For No More Chronic Flooding Of Puyallup River

Dec 18, 2013

Devastating floods in the Puyallup River valley near Orting are soon to become a thing of the past.

The city is breaking ground on a new $16 million levy. The project will restore the landscape around the river at the foot of Mount Rainer to something more natural, with room for floodwaters to soak into the landscape.

In 2006, flooding along the banks of the Puyallup River caused the greatest urban evacuation in Washington state history. It sent 30,000 people fleeing from Orting, Fife, Puyallup and Sumner. And that was just the biggest one.

The old levies were built in the 1930s and the 1960s, says Orting's project manager Ken Wolfe.

Credit Pierce County Television

“And the mindset back then was to construct narrow river channels that would flush out the sediments from Mount Rainer. And it just doesn’t work,” Wolfe said.

Communities along the Puyallup have seen three floods of record in the past seven years, with several feet of water flowing over the river walls. The new setup will provide buffer lands to absorb the water naturally, and filter it as it flows through. The Orting School District donated 50 acres to the project, which should prevent regular disturbances to the three schools near it.

The Nature Conservancy helped secure money for the project, which is fully funded by local sources and a final grant of nearly $6 million from the state Legislature. The conservancy's strategic partnership director Bob Carey says the new levy will change the river from a narrow channel into a more meandering natural landscape.

"It's not just about the fish or the wildlife, or the plants. This is really about making our communities more resilient and more able to absorb those floodwaters and reduce the likelihood of tragic events like we've seen in the past," said Carey. 

Officials say this project could serve as a proof of concept for more restoration work on rivers all around the region.

It will provide a total of 100 acres of floodwater storage and salmon habitat and about 230 new local jobs. There will also be more public access to the land, where nearly 40,000 new plants and trees will grow.