Flood control to Major Tom: River and Floodplain Management Section keep King County high and dry

The heavy rains and melting snows have brought upon King County its annual river flooding season. As the most common winter weather occurrence, flooding is a danger in both rural and urban areas. King County’s River and Floodplain Management Section (RFMS) within the Water and Land Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) works to overcome these flooding challenges and educate the public about safety.

Pictured: From left, Capital Project Manager Stella Torres and Engineer Heather McPherson

Capital Project Manager Stella Torres and Engineer Heather McPherson shared about their work with this team, and how important it is to be prepared. Stella has been with King County since August 2017. Her work includes overseeing the implementation of capital improvement projects from design through construction, including leading interdisciplinary teams in construction of infrastructure to reduce risk of flooding and erosion, and conducting stakeholder and community outreach to garner support and address concerns. Heather has been with RFMS since February 2019 and helps to design and implement projects to repair damaged levees and revetments on rivers, while improving riverbank habitat. She also inspects facilities, creates maps, works with permitting agencies, and coordinates with her team to consider stakeholder needs.

The nature of their work requires both women to be outside in a variety of locations, based on project sites and flood patrol routes. The work can be challenging, with reconciling many interests and beliefs about how rivers and floodplains should be managed, juggling multiple projects and priorities, and potential overnight flood patrol shifts. The challenges are outweighed by the positives though, with each woman explaining what about this work is special to her.

“I enjoy the consistent fieldwork opportunities and working on a team that cares about each other, the project outcomes, the communities we impact, and the ecosystems we affect,” said Heather. “It’s great to have a variety of project sites and flood patrol routes so there’s opportunities to work on rivers throughout the county.”

Pictured: Capital Projects Manager Stella Torres out in the field.

Stella also agrees. “I love the problem-solving nature of my work,” she said. “I also love getting to work in and around rivers. Rivers are incredibly complex ecosystems.”

“Humans have gathered around rivers from the beginning of human history to make use of their natural resources and I find it rewarding to do work around these natural features that are a hugely important part of life for humans and animals,” she added.

Heather and Stella explain how being “flood ready” requires the RFMS team to be proactive and stay ahead of weather forecasts that indicate potentially dangerous levels of flooding from October through April. The team has a variety of trainings and tools available to them, as well as knowledgeable colleagues in the River and Floodplain Management Section who support the Flood Patrol and Flood Warning Center programs.

“They are super on top of monitoring weather events and do their best to give us a heads up,” said Heather. “It often seems we have large flood events near the holidays so being mentally prepared and having gear ready if we get called for a flood patrol shift is important.”

“The staff help keep people safe and prepared by operating the Flood Warning Center, which maintains a 24-hour line of communication between King County personnel and members of the public to provide assistance during flooding,” said Stella.

Pictured: The icon for the KC Flood mobile app.

In addition to the Flood Warning Center, available at 206-296-8200 or 800-945-9263, the public can also access flood information through KC Flood, a mobile app available to both employees and the public. Each year, the King County Flood Control District also updates their “Be Flood Ready” print brochure, available in 21 languages as a PDF online at www.kingcounty.gov/PrepareForFlooding or in print, by request.

“We have a robust system in place for getting out warnings of dangerous levels of flooding to vulnerable communities through our website, use of apps and informational brochures,” adds Stella.

Stella and Heather share how it is necessary for King County to prioritize flood risk reduction programs to ensure a good quality of life for residents and the region overall.

“Damage to people, property and important infrastructure due to flooding is costly,” said Stella. “It’s important in this region that experiences frequent flooding to prioritize this work and be prepared in order to save lives, mitigate risks and reduce spending on damage to infrastructure.”

Pictured: Engineer Heather McPherson at the upstream side of the Black River Pump Station, a flood control facility.

“It’s important we do this work and prepare for flooding because of climate change, aging infrastructure, and equity – ensuring everyone living in or near flood plains has the resources needed, knows how to prepare, is aware of risks, and feels empowered,” Heather adds.

Because flood management and preparedness cannot be accomplished by a single division or work group alone, it is also critical that King County employees know about these efforts, and how they are connected to it. Various departments and divisions collaborate with the RFMS group to provide the wide range of services required to respond quickly to flooding and mitigate flood risk.

“A majority of the work we do in the River and Floodplain Management Section, as a service provider to the King County Flood Control District, requires collaboration across divisions and departments,” said Stella. “Support from King County’s Roads Division, Emergency Management Services, and many other departments is key.”

“We want to help make others aware that flood resources exist, especially for employees that might work or communicate with people living in floodplains or who are new to the area,” said Heather. “And the interconnectedness of King County policies, missions, and department work – where our actions may affect other actions and vice versa – are opportunities to provide more benefits for the community.”

For more information about King County flood services, visit www.kingcounty.gov/FloodServices. To see current flood conditions, sign up for flood alerts, or download the app, visit www.kingcounty.gov/Flood. To learn more about the work Stella, Heather, and other King County employees in the Water and Land Resources Division are doing, read The Downstream Blog , follow King County DNRP on Twitter at @KCDNRP, or on Facebook at @KingCountyDNRP.