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Originally published Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Howard Hanson, a dam site better

Repairs to the Howard Hanson Dam mean the Green River Valley can relax during the next winter storm season. Prompt action by federal, state, county and local governments, with the cooperation of the public, was key to a successful outcome.

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BARELY contained giddiness and glee greeted the announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Howard Hanson Dam will be able to operate at its full flood-storage capacity this winter. An understandable response.

King County and Green River Valley cities have been living in a shadow since a January 2009 storm exposed problems at the dam. The Corps raised concerns and the county and local governments responded with a commendable sense of urgency and purpose.

The Corps says the dam was not in immediate danger of failing, but action was prompted by the discovery of two depressions on the right abutment, increased water levels in groundwater-monitoring wells, and the appearance of sediment-laden water entering the abutment drainage tunnel.

Storage capacity was restricted and that meant more water released downstream, and the threat of who knows what.

As repairs and tests were made over the past two years, communities and employers adjusted. Barriers and sandbags went up, and emergency plans were fine-tuned.

Col. Bruce Estok, commander of the Corps' Seattle district, shared the good news with County Executive Dow Constantine and the mayors of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray was among the federal partners invoked by relieved and grateful leaders. She and other members of the state's congressional delegation and Gov. Chris Gregoire all drew compliments for a broad, cooperative response.

The dangers were real and the problems were addressed with the Corps' technical expertise and the organizational skills of various local governments and private stakeholders.

Repairs to the dam and additional stabilization efforts are still works in progress. The Corps reports that drainage-improvement work is expected to be finished in October. Projects for 2012 include protecting spillways from debris and reinforcing them.

A detailed study of the dam's safety is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013.

More work is under way, but the dam will operate as designed. A commendable achievement for all involved in protecting public safety.

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