1/18/21 | Cle Elum, WA | Submitted by Jerry Martens
This past month, I resigned as Chairman of the Kittitas County Flood Advisory Committee.
As a lead into this article …. I did not see myself as a good fit for the committee. Our District 2 County Commissioner originally asked me to sit in because of my experience with land development. I initially questioned the idea because I had voted against the Flood District Committee formation and had severe reservations about how Kittitas County was handling water-related issues. My thoughts were that they taxed us too much for water while placing moratoriums and restrictions on well drilling and water access for drinking use. In my opinion, the County couldn’t have it both ways… but then again, I was also curious enough to find out and agreed to serve on the committee.
The Kittitas County Flood District was established in 2012 by a vote of county citizens. Over the initial 6 years as a district, operational oversight was provided by the Director of Kittitas County Public Works, who then reports to our County Commissioners.
The initial taxing authority was approximately seven cents/$1000 of real estate value and raised over $450,000 per year. Over these first six years, time was spent on organizational elements, flood studies, and specific projects that targeted flood abatement work and maintenance. All in all, having this fund would enable the County to cost-share and apply for Grants. This would help leverage district funds close to a seven times return in added funds for county projects.
These initial flood district projects were primarily targeted to areas surrounding and mostly north of Ellensburg and include studies toward monitoring stations and needed flooding controls along Reecer, Mercer, and Wilson creeks. Several million dollars of tax funding was expended toward these drainage basins.
In 2018, Public Works realized that it was overseeing millions in taxpayer money with few oversights. The Public Works Director wisely requested that County Commissioners provide for a citizen’s advisory forum to review and provide input into the overall flood district operations. At the County Commissioners directions, an advisory committee was formed consisting of 7 members. It was decided that District 1 would have two citizen members, District 2 would have three, and District 3 would have the remaining two members.
Initial board members (all county citizens) have land and real estate representation, City of Ellensburg, Yakama Tribal staff, and lower valley Agricultural community members.
This committee met monthly over the first 18 months, with much of this time spent on education and background on flooding, both recent and historical. Again, most of this background targeted Ellensburg and surrounding areas. This was the region where “development” had primarily occurred and periodic flooding was of the most significant concern. It was also the area that government oversight and reaction had been most concerned.
Initial measures include gaging stations along various creek channels, levy maintenance, and working with citizens in developed areas prone to flooding. In my opinion, the work to date has been of benefit not just to those in flood-prone areas but Countywide.
PRESENT AND NEAR FUTURE:
Over the past few years and under the advisement of the Flood District Advisory Committee, the flood district scope of interest broadened with a shift of interest into both the Yakima River channel into drainage basins throughout the County. This is a good progression for the District and more importantly, you get planned development over-development that then needs flood abatement due to no planning.
As I mentioned, my initial response and reaction to a Kittitas County Flood District were negative. With knowledge, background, and experience, my opinion has shifted to support. The reasoning is, if this is appropriately managed, the Kittitas County Flood District is a mechanism for future planning with background, oversight, and anticipation of needed maintenance and operations. Most importantly, by addressing issues and working through them before development, the flood district is addressing the directives of the Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA).
If conducted properly, the District will address needs and plan for our future with river and drainage basins management as a focus. In essence, a district that works itself into an oversight job instead of an emergency project implementation.
THE CONCERNS: With any taxing entity, we the people, need to be diligent in making sure the purpose of the District remains the focus of the District. Where there is money, there are all kinds of groups, agencies, and interests that hope to see it become a funding stream for their projects.
The Flood District has already purchased or contributed several million dollars’ toward properties or facilities. The District recently contributed $1 million to a City of Ellensburg flood restoration project north of Dollar Way. It has completed and closed a land purchase with water rights at the mouth of the Yakima River Canyon. It is looking at several programs in further flood abatement in other drainage basins.
With any funding source, you see open hands that want that money. This will be inclusive of county interests that might be outside of valid flood abatement and most definitely includes state, tribal and environmental groups eager to see added money for pet projects. This is currently taking place and will only be kept in check by District oversight and management, including the Advisory Committee.
Again, I am supportive of our Flood District, but only so far as the District and its management stays focused toward addressing flood abatement and working forward in reducing the need for our tax dollars.
I enjoyed the two-years spent on this committee and those that I served with addressing our community’s needs. The key to this remaining a successful and meaningful tax-supported District is for our citizens to stay aware and the question often.