A big construction project in tiny Bucoda will eventually protect half the town from isolation during major flooding.
The Skookumchuck River runs through this south Thurston County community of 562 residents. The river is prone to flooding, most notably in January 2009, when nearly 50 homes in south Bucoda were marooned from the rest of the town for two days until the water receded.
That flood was the impetus behind the upcoming Bucoda Main Street Regrade Project. Construction crews will raise a 1,500-foot stretch of Main Street by about 2 feet. The plan also calls for culverts and bridges that will channel floodwaters beneath the intersection of Main and 11th streets.
“About 25 percent of the citizens get cut off when it floods through here,” Bucoda Mayor Alan Carr said. “We believe we can move the water faster through town so it won’t back up to the north.”
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The town has received a state grant worth $3.1 million to pay for the project as part of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority’s Chehalis Basin Strategy.
The contract has been awarded to developer Jerome W. Morrissette and Associates, and the designing is underway. Construction is scheduled to start in February 2017 and finish by the end of that June.
The project will likely include the acquisition of private properties near 11th and Main streets. More details about the number and location of the acquisitions will be available later this year.
Scott Boettcher, who provides staff support to the flood authority, said the Main Street project stems directly from the 2009 flood and concerns for the safety of residents — especially when the flooding can hinder access by emergency personnel.
“Will that project stop flooding? No,” he said. “We’re trying to make it easier to live with flooding.”
After the flood
On Jan. 8, 2009, the Skookumchuck River reached its second-highest recorded crest at 17.72 feet, which was just shy of the record of 17.87 feet in February 1996.
The most recent flood scare came Dec. 10 when the crest reached 16.6 feet, which is the eighth highest recorded level, according to the National Weather Service.
The river runs behind the house of Bob Wall, a lifelong Bucoda resident who lives about a block from Main Street. He was among the residents who were isolated from the rest of town in the 2009 flood.
Wall, who owns the local restaurant Joe’s Place, said he didn’t worry in 2009 — and doesn’t worry now — about floodwaters reaching his house up the hill on Mill Court. Occasional flooding is a part of life in Bucoda, he said.
“We just waited it out,” said Wall, 90, explaining that some residents rely on lifted trucks to cross the waters. “You can usually get through with a big pickup. You can usually drive through it.”
The 2009 flood led to an analysis of the river’s 100-year flow. This term refers to a peak water discharge that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.
Water flow is measured in cubic feet per second, which equals about 7.5 gallons of water per second or about 450 gallons per minute. In 1979, FEMA had estimated the river’s 100-year flow at 9,060 cubic feet per second — a number that was exceeded by the 2009 flood’s 10,500 cubic feet per second.
The average garden hose has a water flow rate of about 10 gallons per minute; the 2009 flood’s rate was about 4.7 million gallons per minute.
In 2015, an investigation was completed by Watershed Science and Engineering, which determined the 100-year flow at 12,600 cubic feet per second. That’s a 39 percent increase over FEMA’s original estimate.
The Main Street project follows the recent levee construction to protect Bucoda’s drinking water system from flood damage. That project, which was finished in June 2014, raised and extended the levee that surrounds the wellhead on the north end of town. Cost for that flood relief project was about $267,000.
Numbers aside, many residents in Bucoda don’t think much about flooding until it happens every few years.
Longtime residents such as Wall remember when a sawmill would fill the river full of logs and raise the water levels. That mill closed in 1944.
“You really have to have a bad rainstorm for three or four days before it floods,” said Wall, who does think the Main Street project is a worthwhile expense. “It would be a good deal for the people down here.”
A public meeting about the Bucoda Main Street Regrade Project will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Bucoda Community Center on Main Street. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-278-3525.