EDITOR’S NOTE: The smart thing to do is prepare for possible flood

We are very worried about the flood alert. We want to know when it is going to be and what precautions we should do. Some of my friends are calling from Everett and telling me it’s going to be very bad and we should pack our costly stuff and keep it on the safe place with friends. So could you please help me with this situation. My husband said we don’t have to worry, everything will be fine. We have two daughters, 15 years and 12 years. My 12-year-old is very worried since she heard about this flood. She asks me everyday, “Mum, are we going to drown?” We just did the whole house paint and lamination in whole house, so she said “Mum, everything is going to be wasted.” So let me know what to do.

No one wants the Green River to flood. Billions of dollars in commerce are at stake. A major warehouse district stretching from Renton, through Kent and into Auburn is at risk.

Families, like the one who e-mailed me the plea above, are worried. There are reports that people who live in low-lying rental units near the Green River are thinking of moving to higher ground when they can.

The answer to everyone is prepare, prepare, prepare. And, try to remain calm. And if you live or own a business in the Green’s floodplain, buy flood insurance now.

I know public officials are not trying to scare us. But, the flood could happen. Last winter’s storms damaged one of the supports to the Howard Hanson Dam, which since the early 1960s has controlled the flow of the Green River.

The U.S. Army of Engineers can’t store as much water behind the dam because of the damage, so must allow more water to flow through than what it normally would in a major storm. The potential result is flooding. The extent of the flooding would depend on the size of the storm; but only a massive storm could cause catastrophic flooding.

Frankly, I am not at all comfortable with the notion that where I work and, I apologize for the image, where our sewage is processed, could end up under a few feet of water, if Mother Nature turns nasty this winter.

For sure, I don’t want my officials waiting until the rains begin to make plans to prepare for the worst. Renton’s action to declare a state of emergency so that the city can make those plans is completely appropriate. I am not worried that the city will strip Renton residents of their civil liberties in order to prepare for the floods. Nor am I concerned that the safeguards that protect us from runaway government are going to get trampled.

No, we can’t wait until there’s more than a trace of rain in the forecast.

King County has taken the step, too, to declare a state of emergency. It’s already making plans, and looking for the money, to move its elections office headquarters on Grady Way to Boeing Field. The county’s land-use and development office is not far away and it serves a critical function, too.

Unfortunately, you can’t move a sewage-treatment plant. You can always shut it down. But, then, where to send all the millions of gallons of sewage coming from the Eastside and South King County?

That possibility is what worries City Council member Don Persson the most.

The city, Persson says, is taking the situation seriously.

Like me, Persson grew up in Tukwila. He has his stories to tell about the floods that happened before the Howard Hanson Dam was built.

Houses were built on stilts; supplies were ferried by rowboats to those stranded by floodwaters. The water would come to the peaks of the Longacres Racetrack barns.

Today, the city is worried about personal safety, Persson says. “It’s a big deal,” he said.

I can remember as a kid many of the dads who lived on Tukwila Hill responding to the call to lay sandbags somewhere on the Valley floor. I wasn’t quite sure where they went, but there was a Post Office and a tavern to protect, for sure, and, of course, many homes.

Back then, that wasn’t such a problem, when the Valley was a place where things grew, not a place where they were warehoused or sold. (Yes, I have seen the historic photo of the man rowing a boat through downtown Kent. Back in 1911, downtown Renton was awash in water.)

What’s comforting is that I think that officials at all levels of government, all the way to Congress, are doing their part to ensure everything possible is done to protect the Green River Valley from flooding. No one is ignoring the problem.

Mayor Denis Law stood behind her earlier this week as Gov. Chris Gregoire called on all the business in the Green River Valley and the 30,000 or so people who live there to buy flood insurance.

Of course, the situation has become politicized. Susan Hutchison, who is running against Dow Constantine for King County executive, is criticizing the county for not reacting sooner to failed levees. (Her press release calls them levies.) Anyone who has walked along the Green will see that millions of dollars have already been spent to shore up the river’s levees, in partnership between the county and the corps.

There has been leadership; apparently, because she wasn’t working in the halls of government, Hutchison didn’t notice.