Kittitas County's failing flood district raises concerns

Kittitas County's failing flood district raises concerns
LIBERTY, Wash. -- Kittitas County now searches for a new flood control option after voters rejected the last one. Commissioners said they need money to minimize the flooding threat from wildfires over the summer.

"Two springs ago, the water was going over the top of that bridge, flooding all the neighbors' yards, everything down the line," said Liberty neighbor Paul Compaan.

People in Liberty are no strangers to natural disasters.

"This was the high water mark right here, so you can see that it was barely contained," Compaan said.

Just months after Liberty was threatened by the Table Mountain Wildfire, the risk now is increased flooding.

The massive wildfires over the summer burned parts some land so badly that it becomes almost water resistant.

"There will always be some flooding," said Yakima County Commissioner Obie O'Brien. "Without a flood control district, we don't have the ability to get out ahead of it. And do pre-emptive work."

A county measure to raise property taxes for flood control isn't passing.
It's behind by about 200 votes.

KIMA asked, "Does this put put commissioners and the county as a whole in a tight spot?"

"As a county, like every county in the state, we don't have a whole lot of money. We just had to go through a whole lot of budget cutting," said O'Brien.

Now, county won't be able to rehabilitate the land by doing things like planting trees or working on waterways.

It will only be able to react to emergencies rather than work to prevent damage ahead of time.

Kittitas County collects road money to address some flood damage concerns, but that's limited to the immediate area around streets and highways.

"The feeling of people who live in more rural parts of Kittitas County would say to themselves, well all the money will go to the Lower Valley, so why should we vote for it?" said Compaan.

County Commissioners said just because voters decided not to fund the district, doesn't mean it has to go away completely.

Now, they will decide whether to keep the district in place and if so, it could open the county up to future grant opportunities.

The Kittitas County Conservation District started planting trees on scorched land.

But, the county maintains a flood control district would have done a lot more to address the damage.

There are still votes to count, but county officials don't expect the result to change.