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.

First TAG meeting Report

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The first meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Farming in the Floodplain Project (FFP) was held on April 5, 2016 at the Puyallup Library.  About 25 people participated, including Clear Creek area farmers, Pierce County staff, Farming in the Floodplain Project staff, and regional technical experts.  The meeting was led by PCC Farmland Trust and by ESA, the technical contractors working on the project.

Topics discussed at the meeting included the purpose and structure of the FFP; agriculture in the Clear Creek area; agricultural viability; concerns, opportunities, and information needs in the Clear Creek area; and observed trends and projections in the Puget Sound area and the Puyallup Watershed.

Drainage Ditch CC
Drainage Ditch between Early Bird Farm and Dimond’s Farm

Members of the newly-formed Clear Creek Farmers Collective (CCFC) presented information on their collective and its position on the Farming in the Floodplain Project and on Pierce County’s proposed Clear Creek levee project.  The CCFC represents 21 farmers and residents who own approximately 212 acres of land and who do not want to sell their property to the County.  CCFC members presented a list of requests for the technical work in the FFP, including:

  • a redesign of the proposed Clear Creek levee project that would not include any of the farmland owned by members of the CCFC;
  • an evaluation of drainage patterns and ditches in the Clear Creek area;
  • an analysis of the tidegates at the mouth of Clear Creek;
  • preliminary research needed to establish water rights for farms in the area; and
  • assistance in reaching a compromise allowing for the construction of agriculturally-specific and flood-conscious structures in the Clear Creek area.

Information, questions, and conversations at the TAG meeting will be used by ESA to inform an Existing Conditions Report.  Ideas for future technical work, including those presented by the Clear Creek Farmers Collective, will be used to develop the scope of work for the next phase of technical analysis scheduled to begin in August 2016.

To read the full notes from this meeting, click here: TAG Meeting Report

What does success for the FFP look like?

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What does success look like for the Farming in the Floodplain Project?
Our primary goal is to understand and advocate for the needs of the agricultural community in the Clear Creek area and communicate their needs to decision- and policy-makers. To do this, we will convene technical experts and farmers to analyze questions about conditions, trends, and pressures affecting agricultural viability in Clear Creek. Through public, small group and/or one-on-one meetings, we will engage with the agricultural community to clarify their needs and interests.

The final products of the Farming in the Floodplain Project will provide farmers with technical information they may need to improve the viability of farm businesses in Clear Creek with changes in flooding patterns and land use, and provide Surface Water Management and policy-makers with information they need to support agricultural viability in Clear Creek.

Status Update: January 2016

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The Farming in the Floodplain project is just getting started! We have met with a number of local farmers, toured their properties, and are getting a better understanding of how changes in Clear Creek will affect them. We are hiring Environmental Science Associates (ESA), a well-respected consulting firm, as our contractors for technical work, and they are lining up a team of technical and agricultural experts to analyze available information about agriculture, climate change, hydrology, and the Puyallup watershed.

Sarah Wilcox is our Landowner Engagement consultant. Sarah is a 4th generation Pierce County resident with family ties to local farming, and has 10 years of experience working on agricultural support projects. She will be leading our efforts to engage with agricultural landowners in Clear Creek, and will be making sure that they are as involved as possible in this project.

What is the county’s proposed levee project?

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What is Surface Water Management’s proposed Clear Creek levee project?
The Farming in the Floodplain Project is about more than SWM’s proposed levee- but we know the project is a central focus to many who are involved.

Clear Creek is the area of highest repetitive loss due to flooding in Pierce County. Surface Water Management, a Pierce County agency, has proposed a potential project to relieve flooding issues on land near the Puyallup River and Clear Creek while maximizing the amount of agricultural land in the area and improving habitat for wildlife. The county is interested in buying properties from willing sellers in low-lying areas near Clear Creek.

The county has proposed to build a ring levee, starting near the point where Clear Creek drains into the Puyallup River. The purpose of the ring levee would be to protect lands from floodwaters out of the Puyallup River as it backs up into Clear Creek. SWM needs to determine the best location for the levee, and would like to carefully consider how its placement will affect agricultural lands before deciding on a plan. If the ring levee is built, the two flood gates that close the creek channel from the river during flood events will be removed. Removing the gates would allow floodwaters to interact more naturally with Clear Creek, while minimizing the impact to residents.