Levees along Columbia River in need of dire repair, could cost area billions without fix

Levees along Columbia River in need of dire repair, could cost area billions without fix

Seven levees along the Columbia River don't meet standards and need to be re-enforced -- and that comes with a hefty price tag of $114 million.

If that fix doesn't come and a flood occurs, the failing levees could cost the region billions of dollars in damages.

The levees are located along the river from near the Interstate Bridge to Gresham, and if they're breached, homes and businesses just south of the river would suffer devastating damage.

"Without these levees here, if there were to be a flood, we'd have a lot worse problems," said Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association.

Levee Ready Columbia was formed to determine all the work that's needed to properly protect people and businesses from a catastrophic flood. The river is above average right now and will stay that way through June. Last spring, it was even higher.

These incidents put pressure on the levees and make them less effective in the long run.

"Any time that there's water on the levee it increases the risk and just the way that the water can move throughout," Colin Rowan, Levee Ready Columbia project manager, said.

The new system of levees would protect Portland against a storm that's a once-every-500 year event. Those types of storms can happen more frequently than every 500 years, but at the moment, the levees are set up to fight off rising water from a storm that has a 1 percent chance of happening annually.

Five of those storms have happened since 1933.

"There's a lot of stuff behind these levees that are important for the entire state and not just Oregon but Washington as well," Collier said.

Project organizers say it's a long shot they'll get federal money to pay for the $114 million project, so it'll have to come from state and local governments.

The biggest chunk of the money will go towards repairing a levee just west of Interstate 5 near train tracks.

"We know that is where a failure was," Rowan said. "Do we want to build a flood wall on the side of that?"

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