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!

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

Planting project

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A large willow shades out reed canarygrass and other invasives on Nancy’s Ditch (near 44th).

The Farming in the Floodplain Project, led by PCC Farmland Trust, has partnered with the Pierce Conservation District to explore possibilities for a large-scale planting project in the Clear Creek area. We are scoping out the feasibility of planting up to 6 acres of plants all along Nancy’s Ditch. The goal is to use native plants to shade out invasive plants (such as reed canarygrass and elodea) in the ditch. The reduction of ditch-clogging invasive plants will improve the flow of water throughout the ditch and improve drainage for agriculture, and also reduce longer-term maintenance needs.

This project has garnered vocal support from many partners, including residential and agricultural landowners, Drainage District 10 Commissioners, folks representing habitat interests, as well as County staff from Pierce County’s agricultural program and Surface Water Management.

We are hard at work exploring and planning this project, and our Landowner Engagement consultant will continue reaching out to area residents to describe the project and assess interest. Support for the project will come from a mix of County dollars, Farming in the Floodplain Project funds, and additional outside sources.

We will share more information as we are able to! Please contact us if you have any questions.

Sediment Memo

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The Sediment Memo documents what information is known about sediment in the four tributaries of Clear Creek- Canyon, Clear, Swan, and Squally Creeks. It also summarizes what is known about sediment in the Puyallup River, based on a presentation by Kris Jaeger of USGS on November 2, 2016.

The agricultural community in the area requested more information about sediment, in order to increase understanding of current and future sediment regimes, how sediment affects flooding and drainage, and how an earthen berm may impact sedimentation. This memo is based on several conversations with experts, published data, and a presentation and discussion from the 4th TAG meeting.

Fourth TAG meeting report

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The fourth meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Farming in the Floodplain Project (FFP) was held on November 2, 2016 at the Puyallup Library. Kris Jaeger from USGS presented on sediment from the Puyallup, and Spencer Easton from ESA (our technical contractor) presented on sediment from the Clear Creek tributaries. There was also a discussion of the Drainage Inventory Preliminary Findings Memo.  A full report of the meeting can be found here: TAG 4 Report

Our next TAG meeting will be in early February. We will discuss conservation easements, the Flood Risk memo that ESA is currently drafting, and hear from Cynthia Krass, the Executive Director of the Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District, who will discuss the efforts of farmers in the valley to organize around drainage and water rights.