Understanding the Skokomish is not a simple exercise

I admit that I have sympathy for people of the Skokomish Valley, who have been subjected to extreme flooding for many years. I also admire these local folks for putting aside blame and working together for solutions. The vast majority are honest, hard-working and likable people.

I remain an outsider, but I have become better informed during my research into this issue, which will be the subject of a four-part series that begins Sunday.

In a report in today’s Kitsap Sun, I wrote about a meeting of valley residents who are appreciative of the work being done to restore the river, yet they remain understandably frustrated that their farmland has lost so much of its productivity.

The first comment at the bottom of today’s story showed little understanding of this issue. The writer said the river has been flooding forever; he or she suggested that dredging would trigger a lawsuit from the Skokomish Tribe; and he or she urged residents to sell their land and move away.

I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to address these three points.

First, the river has not flooded forever. It’s bedload was increased dramatically after extensive logging in the upper watershed within Olympic National Forest and on lands owned by Simpson Timber Company (now Green Diamond).

In a story I wrote last summer, I called the river “sick.” Rich Geiger, an engineer with Mason Conservation District, calls it “dynamically unstable.” The river is tearing itself apart and acting nothing like a natural system should behave.

The Skokomish Valley was once among the most productive farmland in the Hood Canal region. Yes, old-time farmers may have made mistakes, such as putting dikes in the wrong places and filling in natural channels. But farm families never faced the kind of problems they’re seeing today.

If someone decided to dredge the river without an understanding of what might happen, the Skokomish Tribe might file a lawsuit. But I am pleased to say that the tribe is fully engaged in finding solutions. If dredging could be demonstrated to be part of a long-term solution, I believe the tribe would go along with it.

As for selling the land and moving, you have to realize that these farm families have lived here for generations. As more and more of our nation’s agriculture is turned over to large corporations, I think we should do what we can to encourage these farmers to stay. If the land could be made productive again, the Skokomish Valley could be part of the “buy local” movement.

Furthermore, as the largest river in Hood Canal, experts tell me that fixing the Skokomish must be part of the effort to restore the ailing canal back to health.

There is so much to say about the Skokomish Valley, the flooding problems and the importance of this ecosystem that I could not squeeze everything into even four days of coverage. Let’s just say I’ll be reporting on these issues for years to come.

One thought on “Understanding the Skokomish is not a simple exercise

  1. Thank you very much for this reasoned, informed commentary. Too many people read those stories and jump to conclusions without having all of the facts. I am glad that somebody takes the time to do some research and correct any misconceptions.

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