Man-made log jams guard southwest Washington farmland

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Logs configured by engineers stand in the Lower Satsop River in southwest Washington to slow and divert currents that have been eroding farmland.


A $2.2 million project wrapped up this week to keep a river in southwest Washington from washing away acres of farmland.

The log jams, configured by engineers, have been put in and along the Lower Satsop River in Grays Harbor County, about 30 miles west of Olympia.

The logs are meant to diffuse the river’s force, deflecting it from eroding banks and spreading it over the floodplain.

Terry Willis, whose farm has been losing ground to the river, said she’s optimistic the log jams will help. “I expect to see positive results this winter,” she said.

The Satsop flows into the Chehalis River. Erosion just upriver from the confluence threatens farmland, a county road and bridge, and a well that provides water to a business park.

The river, lazy in the summer, showed off its winter vigor during a storm on Nov. 27, 2018. The river left its channel, took off cross-country and gnawed off enough ground to fill about 59,000 dump trucks.

“It was a big, scary event,” Willis said.

A few months later, state lawmakers gave special approval to mine gravel that had piled up in the river, pushing the current against the bank. The project was inserted into a bill to provide more salmon to orcas. Gov. Jay Inslee nixed the project, using the governor’s power to veto sections of a bill.

The veto added to landowners’ frustration and was another chapter in on-again, off-again attempts to stop the loss of irreplaceable farmland.

This year, at the request of Aberdeen state Rep. Brian Blake, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the Legislature allocated the final $900,000 needed for the log jams.

Grays Harbor County applied and received permits from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Ecology the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Getting the permits took only 16 weeks, said Scott Boettcher, staff to the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, made up of representatives from counties and cities in the region.

“I think it had reached the point where people recognized the way things had always been wasn’t working,” he said. “No one saw it as a good situation.”

The log jams in the river are designed to hold back and divert hard-charging winter flows. The log jams on the banks are intended to slow the water, causing sediment to drop and rebuild lost ground.

The project also included digging a 1,200-foot side channel to handle high flows.

”Looking at the river at low flows in August you wouldn’t think it was anything but a tame river, but when the rains come, that river rises rapidly,” Boettcher said. “We’re really keen to watch it this summer.”

The project has a second phase. Scheduled for the summer of 2022, this work will provide habitat for fish.

Willis, a former county commissioner, said she still thinks the state should reconsider its reluctance to remove river gravel.

She also said the Lower Satsop River can be an example for other erosion-prone spots in Western Washington. “I’m hoping people will take notice of this project.”

Posted By: Capital Press

Posted On: 9/30/2020