Do Not Divert a Wild River Near a Residential Community

Do Not Divert a Wild River Near a Residential Community

From my discussions with experts in risk exposure and probability, it’s become clear to me that the channel feature proposed by the Skagit River System Cooperative is something that can lead to great harm in our community. We can imagine some of the things that could occur as a result of opening the Skagit with a large channel so that it can flow southwestward across our gently sloping and relatively flat valley, but not all of them, and we can’t predict how harmful they would be.

The plans and models developed  in support of the Barnaby project are simplifications of environmental conditions that only assume consequences relating to patterns like the 100-year flood levels. They fail entirely to address catastrophic events that could occur if the Skagit were to flow in its entirety through the channel as a result of some unknown cause. Though more conservative criteria must be applied in evaluating this project, the channel feature cannot be adequately evaluated based on known or historical patterns. The channel invites the occurrence of a catastrophe like the Oso slide.

The metaphor of the “black swan” has been popularized in reference to an event that “comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact…” The Oso slide may be an good example of this, as it was something virtually no one was anticipating and it had a horrific effect on the Oso community. After the fact, people came out of the woodwork to explain how it happened and say it should have been anticipated, which is exactly what happens with black swan events. This would surely be the case if the Skagit suddenly flowed in its virtual entirety through the proposed channel, shifting from its current relatively straight direction and consuming our community. Experts would come out of the woodwork to explain how this wild river found an opportunity to change course and wreaked havoc across our community.

We must keep in mind that the Skagit River has a long history of changing course. Over time it slithers like a snake down our valley. The Skagit is a wild river poised to follow a path of its own choosing. Do not divert a wild river across an essentially flat valley in close proximity to a century old residential community.

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