New legislation allots over US$1 billion for harbour deepening, fish passage works in Washington State

Howard A. Hanson Dam, King County, Washington (Photo: US Army/Stacy Smenos)

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 recently signed into law by US President Joe Biden will authorise the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to proceed with planning a downstream fish passage facility at Howard A. Hanson Dam (HAHD) in King County, Washington, and a wider and deeper waterway in Tacoma, Washington.

The bill authorises US$878.5 million in federal funding for the fish passage facility and US$140 million for the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project. Legislation under the 2022 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) includes authorities for USACE activities for flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration.

The USACE clarified that WRDA is strictly authorising legislation and does not include funding. The funding of WRDA-authorised studies and projects is provided separately through the annual Energy and Water Development Act appropriations process and, at times, through supplemental appropriations.

Tacoma Public Utilities has already completed an upstream fish passage facility. Once the USACE completes the downstream passage facility, both organisations will restore access to more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) of high-quality salmon and steelhead river and tributary habitat upstream from the dam.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries officials issued a Biological Opinion (BiOp) on February 15, 2019, requiring the USACE to complete a downstream fish passage facility at HAHD no later than 2030. USACE anticipates construction starting by 2027.

Howard A. Hanson Dam is an earthen dam on the Green River, 35 miles (56 kilometres) southeast of Seattle. The USACE completed the dam in 1962 and it is a multipurpose project that includes flood risk reduction, fish conservation, water supply, and ecosystem restoration.

The dam’s main purpose is to reduce flooding risk in the highly developed Green River Valley.

The WRDA also authorises federal funding for the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project.

The port’s Blair Waterway is currently authorized to 51 feet (15.5 metres).

Deeper drawing vessels already call at the waterway’s terminals but face tidal delays and other transportation inefficiencies. The proposed project will deepen the channel to 57 feet (17.3 metres) so larger vessels can use the waterway.

In the past decade, ships calling at Tacoma Harbor increased in size and draught at a dramatic pace. The larger vessels’ draught requirements are deeper than 51 feet when fully laden.

Corps officials expect to place about 2.8 million cubic yards (2.14 million cubic metres) of dredged material at a beneficial use site. Approximately 562,000 cubic yards (429,680 cubic metres) of dredged material will be placed in the Dredged Material Management Program (DMMP) Commencement Bay open water disposal site and another 392,000 cubic yards (299,705 cubic metres) will be placed at an upland facility.

The USACE is investigating location options to use the environmentally beneficial remaining materials.

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