What is the goal of the Farming in the Floodplain Project?

The Farming in the Floodplain Project seeks to increase understanding of agricultural needs in Pierce County, including the Clear Creek area, to the level of understanding of fish and flood needs. This will enable agricultural concerns to be considered alongside the concerns of flood and fish interests.

The Farming in the Floodplain Project supports overall agricultural viability in the Puyallup Watershed by documenting and advocating for the needs of farmers and farms so that they can be incorporated into projects that aim to balance flood, fish, and farm interests in the Watershed. The Farming in the Floodplain Project began as a unique opportunity to take an independent look at agricultural viability in Clear Creek, and elevate it in the conversation around proposed projects in Clear Creek and the broader Puyallup Valley. The FFP can help develop and design projects in Clear Creek and the Puyallup Watershed that work better for agricultural interests.

Floodplains By Design stakeholders visit Early Bird Farm in Clear Creek in early 2016.

The Farming in the Floodplain Project is focused on increasing the understanding of agricultural viability in the Puyallup Watershed, and analyzing the impact of proposed changes to flood and hydrology systems. One long-term goal is to advance progress toward a collectively agreed-upon plan for Clear Creek that increases its agricultural viability while meeting fish and flood interests.

What work is happening?

In 2016 and 2017, we worked collaboratively to engage with agricultural landowners and to conduct a technical analysis of current and future conditions that affect agriculture in Clear Creek. We met with a number of local farmers, toured their properties, and began to document how changes in Clear Creek will affect them.

We led a series of Technical Advisory Group (TAG) workshops that consisted of a team of technical and agricultural experts (including Clear Creek farmers) that analyzed available information about agriculture, climate change, hydrology, and the Puyallup watershed. Through our landowner engagement team, we kept the farming community involved in order to clarify and support their needs and interests.

The final products of the first round of the Farming in the Floodplain Project provided farmers with technical information they may need to improve the viability of farm businesses in Clear Creek, and provided Pierce County and policy-makers with information they need to support agricultural viability.

Beginning in January 2018, the Farming in the Floodplain Project is run out of WSU-Puyallup, and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. (More information here. ) We have worked with partners and the Pierce County Agricultural Advisory Committee to elevate the importance of agricultural drainage for agricultural viability. We continue to explore the feasibility of separating agricultural drainage from the Clear Creek system to improve flow, while allowing for habitat restoration in some key areas, and are planning a Clear Creek Agricultural Resilience Action Plan (FAQ).  We work broadly within the Puyallup Watershed to collaborate with the many partners and organizations that deal with agricultural drainage to find solutions for the policy barriers and physical constraints that currently effect farmers and growers.

A drainage ditch in Clear Creek.
A drainage ditch in Clear Creek.

Who is working on the FFP?

The Farming in the Floodplain Project Farm Committee is a working group of Floodplains for the Future, a partnership of public, non-profit, and private stakeholders working to balance farm, fish, and flood control values in the Puyallup, White, and Carbon Rivers.

Committee members include representatives from Pierce County Planning and Land Services, Pierce Conservation District, Pierce County Surface Water Management, Forterra, WSU-Puyallup, PCC Farmland Trust, and several area farmers. This group has also worked collaboratively on strategic coordination, and has aligned efforts of organizational work on farmland conservation in Pierce County.

What are current identified concerns about agricultural viability?

Farmers have faced significant challenges due to changes in weather, poor drainage, flood frequency, seasonal drought, water rights, land use changes, increased development, market consolidation and more. Despite these challenges, there are a significant number of new, thriving, and/or multi-generational farm businesses in Clear Creek who are rooted in the community, and desire to continue farming for years to come.

Proposed changes to hydrologic systems in Clear Creek have raised concerns about future agricultural viability. An increase in flooding, the proposed construction of a levee, and impacts on poor drainage are all identified as having great potential to impact farm functions. Other concerns include the tide gates where Clear Creek meets the Puyallup, and confusion around existing building regulations in the area. To better solve issues around drainage, many farms have contributed efforts towards re-starting Drainage District 10.

How can the Farming in the Floodplain Project address farmers concerns about the above?

The FFP funded an in-depth analysis of current and future conditions of agriculture in Clear Creek. We contracted Environmental Science Associates (ESA) to analyze available information about agriculture, climate change, hydrology and the watershed. The resulting report  will feed into recommendations for the County as they address increased flooding in Clear Creek through their Clear Creek Strategy Plan Process. We included the farming community at every step so that the products of the FFP were clear and useful for farmers and decision-makers. Our work supported several on-the-ground actions that build momentum towards  a multiple benefit project that considers the needs of agriculture as much as it considers those of flood and fish interests.

We offer organized collection of and access to data, and access to County officials and experts on topics related to agriculture in the Puyallup watershed. We are as transparent as possible, undertaking high-quality technical research on behalf of the agricultural community.