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caption: Genevieve Korvin rakes down at the Skagit River to help prevent flooding in the sewer systems. She grew up getting hall passes to sandbag the river. 
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Genevieve Korvin rakes down at the Skagit River to help prevent flooding in the sewer systems. She grew up getting hall passes to sandbag the river.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

A wall to hold back the Skagit River survives its first major test

The Skagit River crested in Mount Vernon on Tuesday morning, but this time the town was ready to hold back the flood.

Marinus Rouw, 84, recalls decades of sandbags. He helped sandbag along the river as far back as the 1950s.

“In those days, the pumps were not that big, so we had trouble with sewer coming the wrong direction, so we put sandbags in the toilets,” Rouw said. “Now those sandbags have been replaced with a metal-slatted retaining wall that the city can put up or take down depending on the weather.”

This is the first time the wall has been tested since it was completed in 2018, to contain up to 40 feet of river, and Rouw said they’re happy.

“It's interesting to see technology deployed like this to replace things like sandbags, and have it be effective,” he said. “It goes up in a few hours versus tens of hours of sandbagging efforts."

Also at the river was Iris Carias, a Mount Vernon city councilmember.

On Monday, as the rain fell, Carias, who works with migrant students, drove around the county to check on their families. Roads were blocked in several places, but she reached them, and everyone was fine, she said, although some were stranded in their houses in flooded fields.

caption: Iris Carias, Mount Vernon City Councilmember, was at the Skagit River on November 16, 2021. She had spent the previous day driving around to migrant families to make sure they were okay amid the flooding conditions.
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Iris Carias, Mount Vernon City Councilmember, was at the Skagit River on November 16, 2021. She had spent the previous day driving around to migrant families to make sure they were okay amid the flooding conditions.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols


“Thank god it didn’t rain today,” she said. “Yesterday was a very hard day. It was flooding everywhere.”

Carias praised the new wall.

“When they built this wall, I think they were looking to the future – global warming and everything going on globally,” she said. “It’s something that has been giving us protection.”

On the dry side of the levee at the river was volunteer Genevieve Korvin, who cleaned out storm drains. She had come to look out at the flooded river but instinct kicked in, and she started clearing debris.

“We would get a hall pass to come down and sandbag,” she said. She graduated from Mount Vernon High School. “It would stall the floods from going into the storefronts.”

Diana Boyce of Mount Vernon recently bought a home out of the flood zone. Her daughter lives in the flood zone but stayed with Boyce on Tuesday night.

"Just water everywhere, massive water,” Boyce said. “It was incredible.”

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The wall completed in 2018 in Mount Vernon, Washington, to hold back flooding on the river as seen on November 16, 2021.
Credit: KUOW/Joshua McNichols

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