Celebrating Juneteenth and Advancing Equity, Social Justice, and Environmental Justice

Steven SchauerUncategorized

By Michelle Clark, Executive Director

On Wednesday, June 19th, the King County Flood Control District (KCFCD) office will be closed in observance of Juneteenth. The origins of this national holiday date back to 1865, but the story begins a few years early.

On the eve of January 1, 1863, known as “Freedom’s Eve,” enslaved and free African Americans across the country gathered in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect. As the clock struck midnight, the Proclamation declared all enslaved people in Confederate states legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, spread this message of freedom across the South.

Juneteenth. Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

However, in Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, freedom for enslaved people came more than two years later. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to announce the freedom of more than 250,000 Black slaves by executive decree. This day, widely celebrated by Black Americans as Independence Day, is now a Federal holiday, allowing us to fully recognize the fight of the descendants of African slaves for freedom. We commemorate the historical legacy of Juneteenth underscoring the importance of perseverance in the face of oppression.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture is a great resource for additional information regarding Juneteenth.

KCFCD’s Multibenefit Motion

In November 2020, the KCFCD Board of Supervisors approved FCD Motion 20-07, which underlines our commitment to integrated floodplain management and multibenefit projects (Multibenefit Motion). This motion highlights principles of environmental stewardship, equity and social justice, and environmental justice, fundamentally identifying and codifying how the KCFCD plans and designs its capital projects.

The Multibenefit Motion applies to the KCFCD’s actions across King County by mandating the prioritization of multibenefit floodplain management projects aimed at reducing flood risks, ensuring public safety, and restoring river ecosystems equitably and justly. The ten multibenefits outlined in the motion are:

  1. Equity & Social Justice
  2. Environmental Justice
  3. Habitat Protection & Salmon Recovery
  4. Jobs & Sustainable Livelihoods
  5. Open Space Conservation
  6. Productive & Viable Agriculture
  7. Recreation & Opportunities to Connect People with Nature
  8. Resilient Communities & Ecosystems
  9. Sustainable & Clean Water
  10. Sustainable Development

It was an intentional decision to list Equity and Social Justice along with Environmental Justice at the top of this list. It’s also important to acknowledge that achieving these multibenefits often requires collaboration with various organizations, including local jurisdictions, Tribes, state and federal agencies, and other entities.

Focus on Equity & Social Justice

Equity and social justice involves the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all individuals, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, income, or education. The KCFCD advances these principles by engaging historically disadvantaged populations in flood hazard management planning.

In addition to engaging with the residents we serve, including those from historically marginalized communities, equity and social justice can also be realized through protection measures against flooding, such as flood hazard management facilities, floodproofing solutions, and relocation strategies. Enhancing public access to parks and open spaces and providing safe access to rivers for traditional and subsistence fishing are also critical components of equity and social justice.

During the development of the Lower Green River Corridor Flood Hazard Management Plan Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), the KCFCD employed a new approach to implementing inclusive outreach to advance equity and social justice. This new approach utilized Public Health Navigators, who act as trusted leaders to bridge gaps and engage the community. The Public Health Navigators assessed and improved the KCFCD’s communications materials, helping to develop culturally relevant materials, which were translated into eight commonly used languages within the project area. Armed with this thoughtfully crafted material and information, the Public Health Navigators engaged, educated, and gained feedback from community members at approximately 40 community events. Their important work secured over 2,250 community comments, in 6 different languages, during the review process for the draft PEIS.

The stunning success of the public engagement completed by the Public Health Navigators on behalf of the KCFCD has not been lost on the leadership of the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA). They were so impressed with the outcome that I have already been invited to two national events organized by NAFSMA to represent the KCFCD and present on our equity and social justice initiative. I’m also pleased to say that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), having heard my presentation in Denver, expressed interest in incorporating the lessons learned from our experience into FEMA’s new Future of Flood Risk Data program.

Embracing Environmental Justice

Environmental justice ensures that all people, particularly historically disadvantaged populations, receive equal protection from environmental and health hazards. The primary way the KCFCD addresses environmental justice is by mitigating flooding risks and the consequences associated with flooding.

By incorporating vegetation and tree cover into flood hazard management facilities, the KCFCD can also improve air and water quality, reduce urban heat island effects, and enhance the overall resilience of communities. The KCFCD can also offer an option to relocate people from harm’s way when no other viable flood risk reduction options exist. As with all the multibenefits pursued by the KCFCD when implementing capital projects, collaboration with local jurisdictions and landowners is essential for achieving substantial environmental justice outcomes.

Juneteenth and the Pursuit of Multibenefits

As we celebrate Juneteenth and reflect on its historical significance, the KCFCD reaffirms its dedication to equity & social justice and environmental justice. Through our Multibenefit Motion and integrated floodplain management efforts, the KCFCD strives to create safer, more resilient, and equitable communities for all residents of King County. Together, we can honor the legacy of Juneteenth by continuing to advance justice and hope in our community.