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621 Sheridan Street
Port Townsend,
WA 98368

Phone: 360.379.4450
Fax: 360.379.4451


Monday - Thursday
9:00 to 4:30                     

closed 12:00 - 1:00 for lunch

Fridays, Weekends & Holidays Closed

Page last updated: 9/8/2006

Sources of Flooding in Jefferson County

Are you prepared for potential floods in our community?  Jefferson County lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Puget Sound, and has an extensive river stream system which drains water from the Olympic Mountains.  Please familiarize yourself with methods that will help to protect you and your property from potential flood damage.

Flooding in Jefferson County occurs in the winter months.  Coastal flooding is caused by storm surges which result from high spring tides and strong winter storm winds.  Newspapers have reported wave run up during heavy wind storms in Port Townsend. 

The rivers swell during winter months when heavy rains and snowmelt produce the highest runoff flows.  The greatest and most frequent flooding occurs at river mouths where the high river waters are held back by concurrent ocean water surges and heavy rains characteristic of winter storms.  

The flooding is a frequent occurrence on the plains near the coasts.  Between 1938 and 1966 (28 years), the Duckabush River flooded 26 times.  Between 1931 and 1982 (51 years), the Dosewallips River flooded 23 times.  In 2002, the flooding of Dosewallips changed the river course near Highway 101 (Leader 2003).  In 2003, Dosewallips flooded the streets near Brinnon 3.5 feet.  In the same flood event, Duckabush flooded the Fire District #4 Station (Leader 2003). 

The Big Quilcene River floods every 2 to 3 years.  The  Little Quilcene River also floods and causes damage.  In the 8 years between 1974 and 1982, "Little Quil" has flooded 7 times!  The flooding of the Little Quilcene makes some of the roads in the area impassable.   

Salmon and Snow Creeks occasionally overflow their banks but cause little damage. 

The Bogachiel, Hoh, and Clearwater Rivers flood regularly, and damage is common to roads and bridges.  The Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader reported road repairs along the Hoh in 2004. 

Jefferson County has been listed in flood-caused National Disasters 8 times in the 23 years between 1982 and 2005.  This includes the November 1990 flood which is considered one of the Top Ten Weather Events of the 20th century. Two lives were claimed and $250 million worth of damages was caused in that flood.

Flood Risk on Your Property

The first thing you should do is check the flood hazard at your location. By entering your address in the appropriate fields on the official National Flood Insurance Program website, you can immediately learn about the predicted risk of flooding at your location. 

In addition, flood maps as well as information on local flood hazard are available at the County Public Library.  

Also, you can determine if your property is located in a mapped floodplain by requesting assistance from a planner through DCD's Customer Assistance Service.

If your property lies within a mapped floodplain, the planner will give you more information, such as the base elevation above which flooding is estimated to have a one percent (1%) chance of occurring in any given year (i.e., "a 100-year event").  This elevation is used to determine the minimum elevation of the lowest floor for the structures you plan to construct on your property (Jefferson County Code or "JCC" 15.15.70), as well as the minimum elevation of a structure that will be substantially improved (see Definition of Substantially improved in JCC 15.15.030).  If your house is already built and you know the elevation of your house, you will be able to determine the estimated level of flooding that you may expect in your house. 

Finally, you can check the baseline elevations of the newly constructed buildings in your area. These are noted on the Elevation Certificates that are required since June 2006 for every new structure or substantially improved structure in the floodplain in Jefferson County.  Click on this link to assess the scanned copies of the Elevation Certificates on line. 

Remember that floods generate serious risks to people and property.  Flood waters are contaminated with human, animal and industrial waste and are a breeding ground for bacteria.  A flood 6 inches deep can knock people off their feet.  It could take only 2 feet of water to float a car away or cause the car to flip, trapping persons inside.  Keep in mind that during a typical 30-year mortgage period, a home in a mapped flood plain has about a 26 percent chance of being damaged by a 100-year flood event.  The same structure only has about a one-percent chance of being damaged by fire (source: USGS).

Flood Damage Prevention - Floodproofing

Several of Jefferson Countyís efforts to minimize flood risk depend on your cooperation and assistance.  Here is how you can help:

  • Please visit the Floodplain Management Association "Flood Basics" webpage and click "Learning Center" to learn about flood prevention and reducing flood damage.  You may also wish to enroll in a local emergency preparedness class where flood preparedness is discussed along with other hazards.  Please contact Heather Taracka or visit the FEMA Website for more information.
  • Illegal dumping of yard debris or household wastes into ditches and streams can worsen flooding and water pollution and make cleanup more difficult and expensive.  If you see yard debris or household wastes in ditches or streams, please call the Public Works Department at (360) 385-9160 or Environmental Health at (360) 385-9444.


Several methods are available to protect a building from flood damage:

  • If you expect floodwaters below 2 feet, you may wish to place an earthen berm around your property. 
  • You may also consider waterproofing your house or placing watertight closures over the doorways, though this method is not recommended for expected floods over 2 feet or for structures with basements.

  • Even houses not expected to be flooded may have sewers that back up into the basement during heavy rains.  Installing a plug or a sandpipe purchased from a local hardware store can prevent the back-up when floodwaters are less than 2 feet; valves or other measures may be taken to prevent back-up from larger flood, but please consult a plumber before installation. 

  • It is also possible to raise an existing house above the anticipated flood levels; in fact, this measure is required for newly built or substantially improved structures in the floodplain in Jefferson County.

  • Visit the FEMA FloodSmart website and refer to the FEMA 2-page Checklist for Homeowners: Avoiding Flood Damage for more ideas, including ones that are simple and free, that will help you protect your family and your belongings.  For example, keep your car filled with gas.  Take pictures of the valuables that are in your home.

  • You may also pick up the Disaster Preparedness Handbook prepared by the State of Washington or visit this page for advice on measures to take in the event of any emergency.  These materials are available at the front desk of the Environmental Health division of Jefferson County Public Health, at 617 Sheridan St. in Port Townsend.

  • Please note that before taking any of these measures you should visit the Floodplain Management Association "Flood Basics" webpage and the "Individual Properties" page to learn about effective implementation of the methods suggested above.  Furthermore, you should inquire at the Department of Community Development (DCD) at 621 Sheridan St. in Port Townsend for permit requirements for the flood proofing method you wish to implement. 

Flood Insurance

Homeowners' insurance policies do not cover damage from floods.  However, because Jefferson County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you can purchase a separate flood insurance policy.  This insurance is backed by the Federal government and is available to everyone, even for properties that have been flooded.  Some people have purchased flood insurance because it was required by the bank when they got a mortgage or home improvement loan.  Usually these policies just cover the buildingís structure and not the contents. 

Donít wait for the next flood to buy insurance protection.  There is a 30-day waiting period before National Flood Insurance Program coverage takes effect.  Contact your insurance agent for more information on rates and coverage or visit this NFIP- sponsored website.  To find out what your flood ďzoneĒ is, type in your address in the fields at this website, or seek assistance through DCD's Customer Assistance Service.

Flood Warning System in Jefferson County

Jefferson County obtains flood warning information from the National Weather Service. Information is received 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by JeffCom (9-1-1 Communications). Flood warnings are disseminated via radio (710AM), and other communication methods. 

For up to date flood warnings and weather information, you can also visit the NOAA website.

You may wish to purchase a weather alert radio that will sound in your home in case of a weather emergency, including floods. The radios are inexpensive and available at most hardware stores.

If case a flood warning is issued and you need to evacuate, keep your car filled with gas.

If you know a flood is coming, you should shut off the main gas and electricity switch (forget about the food in your fridge Ė it will be contaminated anyway), and move your valuables upstairs. It is unlikely that you will get much warning, so a detailed checklist prepared in advance would help ensure that you donít forget anything. 

Click now on the following link for a list of measures to protect yourself and your property when flood is imminent (8 hours away or greater).

Safety During Flooding

Do NOT walk through flowing water.  Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths, mostly during flash floods.  Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.  If you walk in standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there. 

Do NOT drive through a flooded area.  More people drown in their cars than anywhere else.  Donít drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out. 

Do NOT drink or eat, even after boiling, anything that may have come in contact with floodwater.  Floodwater is a breeding medium for bacteria and contains human, animal and industrial wastes.  Remember that your tap water, whether it comes from a well or a public water source, is contaminated after a flood.  

Stay away from power lines and electrical wires.  The number two flood killer after the drowning is electrocution.  Electric current can travel through water.  Report downed power lines to the local power company

Have your electricity turned off by the power company.  Some appliances, such as television sets, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged.  Donít use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.

Look out for animals, especially snakes.  Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours.  Use a pole or a stick to poke and turn things over and scare away small animals. 

Look before you step.  After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails.  Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.  Even roads may be weak.

Be alert for gas leaks.  Use a flashlight to inspect for damage.  Donít smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.

Natural & Beneficial Functions of Floodplains

Floodplain lands and adjacent waters combine to form a complex, dynamic physical and biological system found nowhere else.  When portions of floodplains are preserved in (or restored to) their natural state, they provide many benefits to both human and natural systems.

These benefits range from providing aesthetic pleasure to reducing the number and severity of floods, helping handle storm water runoff and minimizing non-point water pollution.  For example, by allowing floodwater to slow down, sediments settle out, thus maintaining water quality.  The natural vegetation filters out impurities and uses excess nutrients.

Such natural processes cost far less money than it would take to build facilities to correct flood, storm water, water quality and other community problems.

Natural flood and erosion control

Over the centuries, floodplains develop their own ways to handle flooding and erosion with natural features that provide floodwater storage and conveyance, reduce flood velocities and flood peaks, and curb sedimentation.

Natural controls on flooding and erosion help to maintain water quality by filtering nutrients and impurities from runoff, processing organic wastes and moderating temperature fluctuations.

These natural controls also contribute to recharging groundwater by promoting infiltration and refreshing aquifers, and by reducing the frequency and duration of low surface flows.

Biologic resources and functions

Floodplains enhance biological productivity by supporting a high rate of plant growth. This helps to maintain biodiversity and the integrity of ecosystems.

Floodplains provide excellent habitats for fish and wildlife by serving as breeding and feeding grounds.  They also create and enhance waterfowl habitats, and help to protect habitats for rare and endangered species.

In Jefferson County, the chum stock inhabiting the Hood Canal in the summer is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The most important spawning area for the summer chum is the downstream-most river mile of the Big Quilcene (Ames et al 2000). 

Societal resources and functions

People benefit from floodplains through the food they provide, the recreational opportunities they afford and the scientific knowledge gained in studying them.

Wild and cultivated products are harvested in floodplains, which are enhanced agricultural land made rich by sediment deposits.  They provide open space, which may be used to restore and enhance forest lands, or for recreational opportunities or simple enjoyment of their aesthetic beauty.

Floodplains provide areas for scientific study and outdoor education.  They contain cultural resources such as historic or archaeological sites, and thus provide opportunities for environmental and other kinds of studies.

Floodplains can increase a community's overall quality of life, a role that often has been undervalued. By transforming floodplains from problem areas into value-added assets, the community can improve its quality of life.



More Information

Jefferson County Code 15.15, provides additional information regarding regulatory requirements for developing in a floodplain.

For more information on the relationship between your property and flood hazard areas, seek assistance through DCD's Customer Assistance Service.

For more information on the Duckabush and Dosewallips Flood Hazard Management Plan, visit the Duckabush & Dosewallips Flood Hazard Management Plan website.

For more information on FEMA/NIFP/ESA Compliance, visit the Issue Links on the DCD website and scroll to this issue.

For more information about hazard mitigation planning and emergency management in Jefferson County, visit the County Administrator's webpage and look for "Emergency Management."

For more information about comprehensive floodplain management planning and key property acquisition, contact the County Natural Resources program.



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