The Southern Resident orcas have captivated us for decades. To many of us, they feel like family. Yet, we have poisoned their waters and destroyed their food source. The dramatic photos of J35, “Tahlequah,” carrying her dead calf for 17 days were seen and felt around the world. Gov. Jay Inslee and the Orca Task Force later recommended 36 actions and a $1.1 billion investment to recover the Southern Residents and the salmon they rely on.
That’s why a proposed “flood retention facility” on the Chehalis River has us gravely concerned. The project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges there would be adverse impacts to salmon and orcas. The Chehalis is one of the last free flowing rivers in Washington and it is important culturally for local tribes. It has also been identified as a priority chinook salmon stock for Southern Resident orcas. This is not just a southwest Washington issue; it has far reaching effects beyond the Chehalis Basin.
Southern Residents are on a precipice and we have been witnessing their slide toward extinction as one by one their food sources have disappeared. We are certainly sympathetic to those whose lives have been impacted by floods, but this project poses an unacceptable risk to our state marine mammal. Flood mitigation can be accomplished through smart development and river restoration without further endangering salmon and orcas.