How much water comes off the hills?

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WSU researcher Ani Jayakaran works with Pierce County staff and Kristin Williamson of South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group to determine an ideal location for a stream gauge on the Clear Creek tributary.

In the past few years, one consistent question from farmers and residents in the Clear Creek area has been: How much water is coming off the hillside from Waller and surrounding areas? We know a lot of development has occurred, and it seems like there is an increasing flow of water onto our land!

The excess water- some of it stormwater runoff from development upstream– ponds on agricultural land, making it dicey for farmers to get onto the land in time in early Spring to plant a first round of crops. Poor drainage in the Clear Creek area exacerbates the situation, meaning that farmers often find themselves with soggy land much later in the season than they’d like!

The water is likely coming from different sources- precipitation, of course, but also high groundwater levels, poor drainage throughout the system, and some proportion of the water is running off the hillside’s impervious surfaces, entering the four creeks (Canyon, Clear, Squally, and Swan) and flowing into the floodplain below. This last piece is one question we’re interested in answering!

In April 2019, a team from WSU Puyallup, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, and Pierce County explored possibilities for placing stream gauges on each of the four creeks. Combined with a stream survey, data from the gauges could be used to calculate approximately how much water is flowing off the hillside onto the land below. This information will be used to help the Floodplains for the Future partnership determine whether sediment ponds or other flow-control methods (like installing sediment traps or large woody debris to trap material, slowing flow downstream) might benefit the land below. The end goal, from an agricultural perspective, is to minimize the impact of stormwater runoff on agricultural lands, allowing our local farmers to use their land more productively to produce our food! 


Installation of gauges will be happening soon, and data should start rolling in thereafter- we’ll need about a year’s worth of flow data to get a sense for the answers we need. Building a better picture of the hydrology of the Clear Creek system will help all of us understand specific actions we can take to improve drainage!

Puget Sound Region Agricultural Drainage Conference

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The first Puget Sound Region Agricultural Drainage Conference will be held on Wednesday February 6th, from 8:30am-4:30pm at Allmendinger Hall on the WSU-Puyallup Campus: 2606 West Pioneer Ave, Puyallup WA 98371.

Are you a Drainage District Commissioner? Do you work for a Conservation District, County Ag Program or Surface Water Management division, or a non-profit organization, and deal with agricultural drainage or water management issues? Do you live/work in the Puget Sound region? This conference is for you!

The first Puget Sound Region Agricultural Drainage Conference, hosted by WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, will be a day for staff and District Commissioners from regional organizations working on agricultural drainage issues to share challenges, solutions, lessons learned, and begin to set the stage for potential future collaborations, research efforts, or conversations. The day will feature interactive panels, relevant discussions, and ample time for networking and meeting folks working on similar issues.

For FREE registration, please RSVP here.

A working agenda is available here.

This Conference is hosted by*:

Funding for this Conference comes from*:

Conference Sponsors include:




Pierce Conservation District, King County Water and Land Resources Division, and Pierce County’s Agriculture Program

*This conference is supported by the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) and the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE). This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2017-38640-26916 through the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number 201207-511. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider.

Roadside ditch progress

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Rawley, DD10 Commissioner, shows the depth of decomposing reed canarygrass in a roadside ditch.

Pierce County Roads division has been expressing interest in understanding how better to support improved agricultural drainage by re-visiting their maintenance schedule and methods. Typically, their crew visits a few times a year, mows down the grass (mostly reed canarygrass or blackberries) and departs. However, this leaves piles of debris in ditches, which may eventually make their way to a culvert, and may only partially decompose, therefore blocking water from draining from the ditch. They’re now seeking a few locations to try out alternative methods, including cutting grass shorter, removing debris, and/or placing a mat down to block weed growth. They’re also open to conducting a survey of the ditch to remove high/low spots to improve flow!

Let us know if you know of any ditches that drain agricultural fields AND are maintained by Pierce County Roads department, and we can connect you with the right folks!

A roadside ditch filled with lush reed canarygrass. We’ll follow the progress and hope to see improvement in flow!

FFP: what’s going on with drainage?

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The Floodplains for the Future partnership is awaiting funding from the third round of Floodplains by Design funding, but the partners are already working hard to move projects ahead. One project that the Farming in the Floodplain Project is excited about is the opportunity to improve agricultural drainage in the Clear Creek area by reconnecting floodplain and restoring Clear Creek on a ~30+ acre parcel of property now owned by the County. Drainage District 10 will be a part of this effort, and in order to make informed, data-backed decisions about how to restore this property, we’re collaborating with flood and fish interests to collect information that will point this effort towards success.

This means collecting data about:

  • surface and groundwater levels in the Clear Creek basin- what do water levels look like over the course of a year?
  • the hydraulic grade line- what’s the slope from one end to the Puyallup River- is it enough to drain the basin?
  • the amount of water the four tributaries (Swan, Squally, Clear, and Canyon Creeks) contribute off the plateau onto the floodplain- how much water is coming off the plateau and draining through the floodplain?
  • salinity- is saltwater water from downstream making it to this system during high tides?

We’re all working to figure out how to share resources and existing equipment in order to collect this data. The end result will be a way better understanding of how water moves around Clear Creek, which will give us all a better path forward to integrating agricultural drainage elements into this restoration project. For example, “re-meandering” Clear Creek by un-pinning it from the railroad tracks could improve flow and water storage. Understanding the slope of the floodplain within the creek/ditch system can show us where to focus efforts to clear, widen, or alter the ditches.

For more information about this effort, or about the Farming in the Floodplain Project, email Jordan.

FFP- round 2!

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The Farming in the Floodplain Project has officially moved to WSU in Puyallup. We’re affiliated with the Washington Stormwater Center and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The Floodplains for the Future (FFTF) partnership- the group that received the first Floodplains by Design grants- continues to successfully collaborate, and received several recent large grants that will be used to further this work. Floodplains by Design funding will be arriving shortly, and the Farming in the Floodplain Project is planning for the next two years worth of work! Our work continues to be guided by the FFTF Agricultural Committee, comprised of staff from WSU-Puyallup, Forterra, PCC Farmland Trust, Pierce Conservation District, and Pierce County (Planning and Lands Services and Surface Water Management), as well as several local farmers/growers.

For the next two or so years (June 2018- June 2020) we will continue to work within the Clear Creek community on the following tasks:

  • Explore the feasibility of separating agricultural drainage from the Clear Creek system, including examining alternative drainage infrastructure for the near term and long term;
  • Support the local drainage district and others within the county to determine what it takes to make a district viable and functional;
  • Participate, and advocate for agricultural perspectives, in Pierce County’s Clear Creek Strategy Process;
  • Collaborate with Flood and Habitat Leads to co-design a project on 40-80 acres of SWM-owned property that will restore habitat and improve agricultural drainage.

We are also continuing to collaborate with many partners to look at drainage problems within the Puyallup Watershed, and seeking options to support improved physical conditions and policies that will lead to improved agricultural drainage.

To learn more about our work, email us!

Summary Fact Sheets available!

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We’ve created six helpful and simple fact sheets to summarize the results and recommendations from our key reports and memos. These describe our research, what we found, and actions that can be taken to support agricultural viability in the Clear Creek area.

Download our Fact Sheets below!

Farmland Impacts | Sediment | Tide Gate | Flood Risk | Drainage Inventory | Findings and Recommendations

Final Flood Risk Memo

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The final version of the Flood Risk Memo is available here: Flood Risk Memo. This document examines the many sources of flood risk in the Clear Creek area, and describes some actions that would increase or decrease flood risk.

The review process was lengthy and intensive and involved incorporation of input from dozens of individuals- thank you to everyone who took the time to read and thoroughly review this memo, including residents and farmers in the community, Drainage District 10 commissioners, Pierce County staff, and representatives of habitat interests.

Agricultural Conservation Easements FAQ

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Agricultural Conservation Easement FAQ

What is a conservation easement? 

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement made between a landowner and a conservation nonprofit or government body. Agricultural conservation easements permanently protect farmland from future development while ensuring it remains available for agricultural production. The easement does this by permanently removing development rights, prohibiting incompatible uses (industrial and commercial), and protecting the property’s agricultural values, including the soils, water rights, and open space.

What allows conservation easements to exist?

How much is a conservation easement worth? Who is compensated for an easement?

What is in a conservation easement? What is allowed and what is restricted?

How are easements managed?

Who can hold easements?

How are projects prioritized?

 Where does funding for easements come from?

How long does the process take?

Can a landowner sell a conserved property? What happens to the easement?

Can easements change after they’ve been agreed to?

What is the value of an easement when development is restricted by zoning, like in a floodplain?

What happens if conserved land isn’t farmed?

Additional Resources:

Washington Association of Land Trusts

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Agricultural Land Easement FAQ

Agricultural Conservation Easements FAQ


Fifth TAG meeting report

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The Fifth TAG meeting took place at the Puyallup Library on February 1st, 2017.

Cynthia Krass, Executive Director of Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District (SVWID) presented on the history of the SVWID and its current work. Challenges facing agriculture in the area include limited water rights and drainage problems. The creation of the SVWID was a response to a need for more formal and unified representation and management to address both irrigation and drainage issues.  Irrigation districts have more power than other special purpose districts and, unlike drainage districts, irrigation districts can address both drainage and irrigation.

We also discussed the Flood Risk Memo (final memo will be completed by early March), and had a discussion on conservation easements led by PCC Farmland Trust staff and Diane Marcus-Jones of Pierce County’s Planning and Land Services.

The 5th report is available here: TAG 5 Report