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WA Ecology floodplain taskforce member appears to curtly say dredging the Nooksack won’t be considered, but did he?

Nooksack River flowing at a depth of about 8 feet looking southwest from Hovander Homestead Park (May 19, 2018). Photo: Whatcom News

The KUOW Soundside live radio show and podcast recently interviewed former Sumas Mayor and now Whatcom County Recovery Manager Kyle Christensen and Washington Department of Ecology Northwest Region Floodplain Management Specialist David Radabaugh by phone. During the live broadcast episode, Radabaugh appears to answer a question about the possibility for dredging the Nooksack River with a curt sounding, “Nope.”

On February 3rd, Soundside host Libby Denkmann spoke with Christensen live on-air for about 15 minutes discussing challenges and different options for preventing more flood events, including sediment management (aka gravel dredging). After a commercial break (at about the 15:30 mark in the episode below), Denkmann introduced and immediately asked Radabaugh if sediment removal was a solution the state was considering. In response, a cough was heard. Denkmann, in an apparent effort to buy some time in the event there were any technical difficulties, reintroduced Radabaugh and asked the question again. His response was simply, “Well, … at this point, … nope.” Denkmann asked if he could elaborate and he responded, “No, I’m afraid not.”

Denkmann later tweeted the following.

The guest seemed to answer my question briefly, but he sounded odd—almost like a prank call. So we put him on hold. His line dropped.

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I said on-air that he had apparently hung up on us. *But* guest soon emailed that he had technical difficulties &couldn’t hear us. We’re still determining what happened. Some are messaging me that he sounded like a jerk—but I don’t think it’s fair to make him into the bad guy.

Tl;dr Let’s take a beat and give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Stuff happens! It’s live radio, baby.

Libby Denkmann via twitter (February 3, 2022)

The recorded version of the episode (at the 17:50 mark above) was edited to include Denkmann reading a statement received later from Ecology’s Communications Manager Curt Hart regarding Radabaugh’s aired statements.

The statement said, “Radabaugh had experienced technical difficulties and was not intending to answer the question,” Denkmann read. She quoted the statement by reading the following.

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It is likely that improved flood safety in Whatcom County will include a variety of approaches. Although there are concerns about the effect that dredging operations in the Nooksack River could have on salmon, now is not the time to rule out any possible solutions. Local and tribal governments and state and federal agencies need to weigh the benefits as well as the costs and consequences of any option we consider.

Ecology’s statement as read by Libby Denkmann

A press release dated February 6th from Save Family Farming, a state-wide farm advocacy group of which Whatcom Family Farmers is an affiliate, said “While KUOW reports that Ecology later claimed Radabaugh’s arrogant responses were a result of ‘technical difficulties,’ farmers and flood victims in Whatcom County aren’t buying it, and are crying foul.” In the same release, Save Family Farming Communication Director Dillon Honcoop is quoted as saying, “This is deeply troubling, if unsurprising.” He added, “This administration and especially Ecology have proven tone-deaf when it comes to the concerns of smaller, rural communities. We see that in plans to sue water rights, holders, in creating bills that would destroy most farming in Western Washington, and now in dismissing the very real concerns of flood victims desperate for help.”

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The interview followed a letter sent January 28th from several Whatcom County small cities mayors to officials at state Ecology, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Agriculture agencies pointing out how, “the crisis we face with water management in the Nooksack River basin goes virtually unnoticed.”

Radabaugh had been interviewed for a January 31st article by Food & Environment Reporting Network in which he is quoted as saying, “Recovering habitat for salmon is critically important. You pull gravel out of a river, upset the system? That’s going to degrade habitat,” and “If we remove gravel, does that solve the problem? With a flood of this size? I don’t think that’s a question that’s been answered.”

4 Comments

  1. rosmri February 9, 2022

    We need to protect farmers in our beautiful county. We also need to protect salmon. We need some true experts here

  2. DC Bag February 10, 2022

    As a person born in 1943 and growing up in Whatcom County and close to the Nooksack River, I remember clearly going fishing with my Dad. At that point, the Nooksack was being dredged fairly frequently. The water remained deeper and colder and you couldn’t walk on the bar during Salmon runs without walking over literally hundreds of spawning dead fish. When flooding occurs now, so much sediment is washed into the river that it covers the eggs. The gravel removed was then sold for other uses. Was there still some erosion? Of course. The Nooksack can be pretty wild. But it sure was better and less damaging than it is now.

  3. Chris February 11, 2022

    If the issue is that a ton of sediment is being flushed into the river then that needs be addressed through erosion control. Planting bushes and trees along the river bank.

    That can certainly help but with climate change i dont think that will be enough. We need a reservoir to even out the water shortages in the summer & the flooding in the winter

  4. Kelly February 11, 2022

    And salmon love the deeper colder water. Dredging is needed and will help both farmers and salmon.

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