Breaking News
More () »

Federal project needed to keep Duwamish River from overtopping, utility says

Several infrastructure projects are underway, but Seattle Public Utilities says they will not ultimately prevent the Duwamish River from overtopping.

SEATTLE — Mayor Bruce Harrell and City of Seattle officials said Wednesday that work is underway to assist people impacted by the flooding in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood that was prompted by Tuesday’s king tide, but efforts must also be made long-term to mitigate future incidents.

The city is working on several infrastructure projects that may reduce the duration and impact of flooding, but Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) says a federal project is likely needed to prevent the Duwamish River from overtopping.

Tuesday's king tide sent water rushing through streets in South Park, flooding homes and businesses. 

The Duwamish River Community Coalition (DRCC), which is taking input from residents on their needs and working to help respond, says at least 10 families were displaced, temporarily staying in hotels as they work to clean up and assess the damage. It anticipates needing donations of cleaning supplies, push brooms and household items that were damaged or destroyed during the flooding.

“People are really just assessing the damage and as the water receded, they're cleaning up,” said Christian Poulsen, who handles policy analysis and communications for the DRCC. “They have to pull out a bunch of carpet, ruined furniture, belongings and take that stuff to the dump. So they need a lot of assistance cleaning up.”

The DRCC will continue setting up near Eighth Avenue South and South Kenyon Street in the coming days, as well as at the nonprofit’s office. People can donate here. In addition to immediate assistance, Poulsen hopes to see long-term investment.

“This really exposes the need for an urban flooding team, task force, organization to be ready for these things until we build climate resiliency into our infrastructure,” Poulsen said.

Seattle Public Utilities says several investments are already underway, including efforts to widen pipes in the area, complete a sump pump station, and improve the quality of water that enters the Duwamish River.

“What that pump will do is reduce the duration of an event like this, so it'll help the water drain more quickly out of these streets,” said Keri Burchard-Juarez, a deputy director with SPU. “The infrastructure improvements we're putting in ultimately won't prevent the river from overtopping. It needs to be a Corps of Engineers project that would probably look like a berm around the river to prevent it from overtopping.”

Burchard-Juarez says the city does have a team advocating for that project, including coordination with local elected officials to secure funding. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the city has submitted a request to conduct a study to determine the best flood risk mitigation approach for the area, but it has not yet been selected for funding.

In the meantime, SPU says it’s also installed grinder pumps in several homes, with more on the way.

“What that does is prevent the sewer system from backing up into people's homes,” Burchard-Juarez said. “My understanding is those pumps did work and those homes did stay free of sewer water but that's unrelated to the fact that the river overtopped and some of those homes got river water into their homes.”

Burchard-Juarez noted that this was an unprecedented event for the area, a sentiment echoed by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who said climate change will make severe flooding events more common, affecting sea level rise that mimics king tides.

“What’s mostly important now is looking at capital structures, the capital costs we're putting in," Harrell said. "We're looking at South Park, Cloverdale [and have made investments for 2023], but that doesn't do these families any good right now that are hurting. So we're trying to house them to make sure their needs are met. But this is a wakeup call with things to come for climate change and we'll make sure our investments reflect the urgency of the situation.”


Before You Leave, Check This Out