The White River/Green River is a defining feature of the Kent Valley. It provided roadways and sustenance for the earliest inhabitants of the valley. The annual floods enriched the valley floor so that the excellent farmland could be used by early farmers for hops, onions, wheat, carrots, asparagus, berries, lettuce, and a multitude of other crops. However, the floods were not conducive for business needs.
The first efforts at “flood control” were taken on the local level.
This is the story from 1905 that tells the tale of a group of Stuck river farmers who were going to dynamite a dam that diverted water from the White River into the Stuck River so the Green River would take more water. They hired expert miners from Black Diamond and they used 2500 pounds of dynamite. While more highly orchestrated than most, it was not uncommon for farmers to blow up parts of the river banks to guide the water where they wanted it to go. The point of most contention was where the White River split just south of Auburn. Many efforts were made by northern farmers to sent more water south and while southern farmers tried to turn more water north. At times, groups of armed farmers patrolled key points in the river to deter would be demolitionists.
Alas, in 1906, a November flood solved the question. A massive log jam developed into a dam on the White River which forced all the water south into the Stuck River. To avoid further complications, the Army Corps of Engineers studied the problem and it was decided that the dam should remain but that King County would have to pay 60% of the costs for flood control in the Stuck river basin. On the map, that red line south of Auburn represents the dry river bed. Since the White River no longer flowed through Kent, the river through Kent was renamed the Green River.
The army engineer assured the valley that massive floods were a thing of the past. Maybe not, as this picture from about 11 years later demonstrates.
The flood problem was not removed as the renamed Green River still overflowed its banks every 2 years or so, with particularly bad years in 1917, 1933, and 1946.
In 1933 for instance, 11,600 acres of valley land was flooded at a cost of 1.75 million dollars, that is around 32 million dollars today.
What to do? In the 1930s, proposals included digging canal from Kent to Lake Washington, or divert the winter waters into the Cedar River. It was deemed too expensive to build up the levees, as it would require a right-of-way of 700 feet and 20 foot high dikes. My favorite was to construct a 2 mile long tunnel so that the river could flow right into the Puget Sound!
The biggest effort made at the federal level was the completion in 1961, of the Eagle Gorge Dam, on the Green river east of Auburn. It was renamed Howard Hanson Dam in honor of the man who had led the civic and government groups in the effort to get the dam made.
The dam cuts the amount of water that deluges the valley in the fall and winter while also augmenting the flow of the river during fish spawning times.
The completion of the dam, in combination with the expansion of the high way system, made Kent an attractive destination for businesses to call home. The 1960s were a time of rapid change in Kent.
Here is the great juxtaposition of Kent’s successful farming past with the space age future of Boeing,s Kent Space Center. However, that is a topic for another day.
Historylink has a good article on the November 1906 flood of the White River.
Here is a good article from our friends at the White River Valley Museum from 2001.
There is an interesting article from the Skagit River Historical Society that includes some great details about the White River Flooding.
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