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Flood damage recovery continues in Columbia County

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Touchet River in Dayton

Touchet River under the Main Street bridge in Dayton last week during major flooding in the greater Walla Walla Valley.

DAYTON — Steve Shochet, one of many Columbia County residents at a community flood meeting Thursday, commended the county, emergency management and all others who helped in protecting his property during the flooding last week.

“The county did an incredible job reinforcing the levee that is near my property,” Shochet said.

They risked their lives, he said, laying rock down and building up the levee where the water was trying to creep.

“I think that made all the difference,” Shochet said.

Emergency crews protected six or seven houses on North Cherry Street near the Touchet River and the county-owned Touchet Valley Golf Course, he said.

The water began to rise in the Touchet River and nearby creeks on Thursday, Feb. 6. Columbia County commissioners called an emergency meeting with Emergency Management Director Ashley Strickland and came to the decision to allow for emergency expenditures.

“This is where the National Weather Service was telling us ‘everything’s good.’ They thought we were kind of crazy having our smaller emergency in order to spend money,” Strickland said during the meeting.

He said the National Weather Service told them that the amount of water in the river plateaued, that everything was good and they would keep an eye on it.

“Well if you look, it plateaued off at around 10 or 11 o’clock at night; it shoots up another foot of water,” he said.

The Touchet River’s peak was at 9.82 feet on Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At 3 a.m. Friday, the Emergency Management Department established Columbia County command, meaning everything is run under one incident and one command. The county ran the city of Dayton under one structure, Strickland said.

Washington State Emergency Operations Center was notified of the emergency at 4 a.m., and at 6 a.m. an emergency declaration was passed by Columbia County commissioners, he said.

Friday at 7:45 a.m. the county requested help, and 8,000 sandbags were made and distributed to protect levees only, he said.

The county could not allow residents to use the sandbags, since the residents voted no against a flood district that would have allowed, financially, for the county to provide sandbags for the residents, he said.

The county and Emergency Management decided together they would allow residents to use sandbags if they had enough protection for their levees, but they never reached that point, he said.

Columbia County is urging residents to record any damage that was caused by the major flood last week to receive money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

On Friday, 19 roads were closed, 17 roads were damaged, 20 bridges were compromised, two levees saw damage, there were four landslides and 500 minor structures were hit, he said.

He said the county guesses 380 homes were affected by the flood and 144 are suspected to have suffered damage, but the numbers aren’t final because officials are still collecting reports of damage throughout the county.

Two water lines were closed, but they run on a loop so all residents in Dayton still have water, and the Wastewater Treatment Plant had damages but is still functioning, Mayor Zac Weatherford said.

If enough losses are reported, the county can make a case that they had enough damage and need emergency funding, he said.

Damage can be in the form of the amount of time a business was closed due to road closures, which would be considered an economic loss, Strickland said. Reporting the carpet that got wet and would have been thrown out anyway is important so the neighbor who has $50,000 worth of damage can possibly receive funding.

All dollars need to be counted so the county can meet a certain amount to qualify for financial help, he said.

County officials urge residents to take pictures of everything damaged by flood, but asks residents to not take photos with people in them because it will not count. Use a ruler or water bottle to determine measurements, which will build a stronger case, he said.

Damage reports for Columbia County can be filled out at

Chloe LeValley can be reached at or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.