Drainage work in Clear Creek

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Invasive Species remediation and channel improvements

 Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) Crew members will be performing drainage ditch maintenance in the Clear Creek area during the month of August. They will be focusing their efforts on reed canarygrass removal in the ditch along Clear Creek on the north side of Pioneer Way.

WCC crew after their first day of work on July 28th, 2016.
WCC crew after their first day of work on July 28th, 2016.

The WCC Crew (pictured above) will be working with Drainage District 10 and community members on these efforts. This work is being funded in part by the Farming in the Floodplain Project under the Puyallup River Floodplain Reconnection grant funded by Department of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design program. This work is the result of ongoing collaborative efforts between the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County’s Surface Water Management, Pierce County’s Executive Office, PCC Farmland Trust, Drainage District 10, and the Clear Creek Farmer’s Collective.

Based on a trial on Thursday July 28, the crew estimates that this effort will take several weeks, and hopes to start work the week of August 8. Drainage District 10 will host a public meeting regarding this work later in the month, and may be seeking volunteer labor to support the WCC efforts.

For more information contact: drainage.district.10@gmail.com

Third TAG meeting report

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The third meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Farming in the Floodplain Project (FFP) was held on July 12th, 2016 at the Puyallup Library. Attendees discussed the public draft of the Existing Conditions Report and the plan for Phase 2 Scope of Work and heard an update on the Floodplains by Design 3 Grant Application. A full report of the meeting can be found here: TAG 3 Report

ESA staff presented key findings from the public draft of the Existing Conditions Report (ECR), and discussed plans for the work plan for August 2016-June 2017. Additionally, they briefly presented a fantastic web map showing much of the data relevant to agriculture in Clear Creek.

Our next TAG meeting will be in late fall/early winter and will focus on sediment issues in the Clear Creek basin.

More information about the Existing Conditions Report.

More information about the Farming in the Floodplain Project work plan for August 2016-June 2017.

More information about the web map.


Second TAG meeting Report

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The second meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Farming in the Floodplain Project (FFP) was held on June 6, 2016 at the Puyallup Library.  About 25 people participated, including Clear Creek area farmers and residents, a Drainage District 10 commissioner, Pierce County staff, Farming in the Floodplain Project staff, and regional technical experts.

Topics discussed at the meeting included flood modeling done for the proposed Clear Creek Floodplain Reconnection Project; the definition of agricultural viability; and potential work plan elements for future phases of technical work on the FFP.

Northwest Hydraulics Consultants (NHC) presented information on the Clear Creek floodplain reconnection modeling NHC performed for Pierce County Surface Water Management in 2014.  NHC’s role was to investigate the flooding impacts of the proposed Clear Creek Floodplain Reconnection Project at a feasibility level, focusing on large flood events.  Following NHC’s presentation, TAG members discussed and asked questions about the model. See our Meeting Report for a description of the presentation, model, and discussion.

Video of NHC’s presentation is available here, with the Q&A available here.

ESA staff presented a draft definition of agricultural viability.  Agricultural viability can be defined as the ability of a farmer or group of farmers to:

  • productively farm on a given piece of land or in a specific area,
  • maintain an economically viable farm business,
  • keep the land in agriculture long-term, and
  • steward the land so it will remain productive into the future.

TAG members commented that regulations, access to farmland, and affordability of farmland are important factors of agricultural viability.

ESA staff presented a list of potential future work plan elements for the FFP.  This work could be done in Phase 2 of the FFP or in the future.  The potential future work plan elements can be found in the Second TAG Meeting Report. For several meeting participants, technical work that would help Drainage District 10 was the highest priority.

Full notes from the meeting are available here: Second TAG Meeting Report

Hydraulic Model Presentation

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At our June 6th Technical Advisory Group meeting, Northwest Hydraulic Consultants presented on the model they developed for Pierce County’s Surface Water Management in 2014. Our group wanted a better understanding of how this model was developed, and wanted to know what the parameters were, and what the model can and can’t tell us about flooding and hydrology in Clear Creek. We recorded this presentation, including a lengthy Q&A for those who were not able to attend.

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.

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.