What to expect in July 2016

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1921 Gay Road - Clear Creek Bridge.
1921 Gay Road – Clear Creek Bridge.

The first 6 months of the Farming in the Floodplain project are all about understanding the current situation in the Clear Creek area. The project team has been diving into the available reports, maps and GIS data, and asked hundreds of questions of Pierce County, Clear Creek agricultural landowners, and other project partners. We’ve done quite a few formal and informal tours and visits in the area and are gathering information about what the agricultural community in Clear Creek looks like.  This includes understanding what agricultural activities are currently taking place, learning how flooding, regulations, drainage and the River Road levee affect agricultural landowners, and starting to get an idea of what the community needs to thrive and ensure ongoing agriculture in the area.

By the end of July, we will have finished the first phase of work, which was focused around information gathering and making sure that as many agricultural landowners were contacted and included in the conversation as was possible. We held a Technical Advisory Group meeting with area experts in agriculture, geology, fisheries, hydrology and policy, and will host another next month, and a third in early July. Our technical contractors will produce two documents towards the end of summer, and these, combined with input from the community, will shape the more intensive, focused research that takes place from August 2016-July 2017.

The first report is the Existing Conditions Report, and will describe current conditions in the area, and include an assortment of custom-made maps. The second is a Phase 2 Recommendations document, which will help the project determine what direction the research will take in the next Phase. More information about these reports is available here. Sarah Wilcox, our Landowner Engagement Consultant, will be taking these reports to the community to ensure that we get input from those who are farming in the Clear Creek area.

To learn more about the Phase 1 reports, see this write-up from Environmental Science Associates, our technical consultant.

Report from the Farm Forum: Water Rights and Irrigation

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On April 28th, the Pierce County Agricultural Program sponsored a Farm Forum on Water Rights and Irrigation. Although there was no immediate solution to water rights issues in Clear Creek, there were definitely some interesting ideas that we will be following up on. There were four speakers at the Farm Forum who each gave a presentation followed by a brief Q&A. A copy of each presentation is available on our Resources page, under Presentations.

Part of the drainage system known locally as "Nancy's Ditch".
Part of the drainage system known locally as “Nancy’s Ditch”.

Our main takeaways were that, according to the Department of Ecology, it is extremely difficult and expensive (and highly unlikely) that landowners are able to successfully obtain a new water right. The presenter, Mike Gallagher, suggests that the best option for small farmers is to either buy land with existing water rights, or, obtain a small amount of acreage, dig an exempt well, use rainwater harvesting methods, and/or use the Industrial Groundwater Exemption to irrigate. Michelle Harris, from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department informed the audience about the steps involved in drilling a new, exempt well.

Jason Hatch, from Washington Water Trust (WWT), presented on some alternatives for water resources that have worked in other areas, including Water Trusts, Water Banking, using recycled water, and establishing a special Watershed Improvement District.

Irrigation Scheduler App
Irrigation Scheduler App

The Farming in the Floodplain Project team is planning a follow-up meeting with WWT to learn more about potential options for Clear Creek. We will share anything relevant that we learn from them!

Finally, Dr. Troy Peters from WSU spoke about the science behind their Irrigation Scheduler app (for iPhone or Android, and available online). This app helps farmers and growers plan the best way to use the water that is available to them. A manual for the Irrigation Scheduler app is available here.

More complete notes are available HERE.