Lower levee means better access to river

By the Herald editorial staff

A few folks around here remember the flood of '48. It covered the Richland Y area and forced 4,000 people to evacuate their homes.

No lives were lost but it was a reminder of the Columbia River's potential for destruction.

To eliminate the threat, 16 miles of levees were built between 1948 and 1953. The top of the new levees was 25 to 30 feet above the river surface.

Levee designers estimated that even in a worst-case scenario, the river would only come within 6 to 8 feet of the top of the levees.

There were also 12 pumping stations positioned along the river to help with any extra runoff.

But perhaps the biggest aid in flood control has been the series of dams along the Columbia River. The system makes flooding nearly impossible.

In 1993, a study by the Corps of Engineers decided the levees could safely be lowered by 5 to 6 feet.

Since that time, the Tri-Cities have been chipping away at the unsightly levees.

It's taken a while, but the last of that great wall is now set to come down.

The final few miles of levee are behind Ivy Glades in Pasco, from Road 54 to Road 72. And Pasco has started the permitting process to lower it.

Of course, lowering the levee isn't the same as removing it, but it's still a big step toward making the Tri-Cities' greatest natural asset more accessible.

The impetus in the early '90s for bringing down the levee was a citizen-requested study aimed at enhancing our shorelines. Almost 20 years later, our rivershore is much more inviting as a result.

Columbia, Howard Amon and Chiawana parks are our river's jewels, and the Sacagawea Heritage Trail is the ribbon connecting them.

Much of the 23-mile paved walking/bike loop is built on the former levee, and in some places it brings visitors right down to the shoreline.

Especially on a sunny summer day, it seems like everyone and their dog is on the path and in the parks.

Developments like the ones at Columbia Point and Clover Island are attracting a mix of restaurants, shops and living spaces to parts of the rivershore.

The Port of Pasco is planning a business park on some of the last remaining undeveloped, levee-free shorelines in the Tri-Cities. Construction of a new office for the port is expected to start in the fall and will anchor the development.

It's a big project. Long-term plans extend east from the cable bridge to the Snake River and encompass the boat basin and marine terminal. The city of Pasco has a hand in the effort.

Much is left to be done along the river, in Pasco and elsewhere, and care needs to be taken to ensure that the public's interests drive decisions on shoreline development.

But the challenges ahead shouldn't stop us from appreciating the progress that's already under way.