President Joe Biden signed the 2022 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) December 23, which lawmakers included in the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023. This action includes authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with planning a downstream fish passage facility at Howard A. Hanson Dam in King County, Washington and a wider and deeper waterway in Tacoma, Washington.
The bill authorizes $878.5 million in federal funding for the fish passage facility and $140 million for the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project. WRDA legislation includes authorities for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) activities for flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration. Congress typically passes a WRDA bill every two years. WRDA is strictly authorizing legislation; it does not include funding. The funding of WRDA-authorized 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 and once USACE completes the downstream passage facility, both organizations will restore access to more than 100 miles of high-quality salmon and steelhead river and tributary habitat upstream from the dam.
“A new downstream fish passage facility at Howard Hanson Dam is the single most impactful project that USACE can take to benefit Puget Sound salmon and orca recovery without negatively impacting other user groups,” said Seattle District Commander Col. Alexander L. Bullock. “It will restore the biological connection of the Green River’s upper watershed and restore access to more than 100 miles of high-quality salmon and steelhead river and tributary habitat above the dam.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries officials issued a Biological Opinion (BiOp) February 15, 2019, requiring the Corps of Engineers complete a downstream fish passage facility at HAHD no-later-than 2030. USACE anticipates construction starting by 2027.
“This critical biological opinion set the Corps’ pace and priority on this important project and set a timeline for completion by 2030,” explained Bullock.
Howard A. Hanson Dam is an earthen dam on the Green River, 35 miles southeast of Seattle. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 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. It has prevented an estimated $21.5 billion in flood damage. Howard A. Hanson Dam and its reservoir lie entirely within the City of Tacoma municipal watershed and it is not accessible to the public.
“We look forward to making fish passage on the Green River a reality, opening up the thousands of acres represented by the 40% of the upper watershed and working closely with our partners, including Tacoma Public Utilities and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, to ensure we have a solution that meets the need of the region and the nation,” said Bullock.
WRDA also authorizes federal funding for the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project.
The port’s Blair Waterway is currently authorized to 51 feet. 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 so larger vessels can use the waterway.
In the past decade, ships calling at Tacoma Harbor increased in size and draft at a dramatic pace. The larger vessels draft requirements are deeper than 51 feet when fully laden. USACE estimates there will be a $10 economic benefit for every dollar spent on the project, which will improve the port as a critical gateway for import and export of goods moving between Asia and the U.S. Midwest.
Corps officials expect to place about 2.8 million cubic yards of dredged material at a beneficial use site. Approximately 562,000 cubic yards of dredged material will be placed in the Dredged Material Management Program (DMMP) Commencement Bay open water disposal site and another 392,000 cy at an upland facility. USACE is investigating location options t to use the environmentally beneficial remaining materials.