floodplains by design

Celebrating Fir Island Restoration

By Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager
Photos by Jeanette Dorner;
 Alison Hart, Washington department of Fish and Wildlife

The Fir Island Farm ribbon cutting was a wonderful event celebrating project completion with the large community of folks who have helped usher the project to the finish line over the last seven years.

This 131-acre project restores habitat for salmon, improves flood protection and drainage infrastructure for agriculture and provides public access at the intersection between the fertile farms of Fir Island and the salty marsh beyond.

See the breaching of the dike that let the tide back in after 100 years.

A new dike keeps neighboring farmland dry, while we still make room for thousands of juvenile salmon. Read more about the project here.

A River Revolution: From 0 to 56 in four years

Written by Bob Carey, Strategic Partnerships Director
Maps by Erica Simek-Sloniker, Visual Communications

Floodplains by Design, a public-private partnership aimed at revolutionizing river management across Washington, came together in 2012 with the goal of making our communities safer and rivers healthier.  It started as a concept:  get the leaders of programs and interest groups that influence coastal and riverine floodplains out of their silos, have them work together to figure out how to manage these landscape in a collaborative, integrated fashion, and we’ll collectively do a better job of delivering society’s goals of reduced flooding, stronger salmon runs, clean water, economic development and a high quality of life. 

Floodplain managers of various sorts – county flood managers, tribal fisheries biologists, agricultural drainage districts, conservationists, etc. – embraced the concept, having seen the folly of trying to “control rivers” and the inefficiency of trying to manage only one cog in a complex social and environmental landscape.  In 4 short years the concept has evolved into a broad partnership – a “movement” in the words of one local partner.  The “movement” has benefitted from strong support from the state legislature which has given $80M to the Washington Department of Ecology for the new state Floodplains by Design grant program. 

Erica Simek Sloniker, Cartographer and Visual Communications specialist for The Nature Conservancy, has produced a map series that documents the evolution from concept to movement.  The initial 9 Floodplains by Design demonstration projects were funded by the state legislature in 2013.  2014 brought 13 more and 2015 another 7.  Earlier this year, the Department of Ecology received 56 proposals for the next round of funding – an indication of the strong interest in joining this river revolution. 

For more information visit www.floodplainsbydesign.org .

Floodplains: Revisited

Written & Photographed by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager

I revisited two Floodplains by Designs sites on the Puyallup River – the Calistoga Reach project in the town of Orting, and the South Fork project a few miles north and downriver from there.

These were both projects designed to re-connect the Puyallup River with its historic floodplain, provide more salmon habitat, and reduce the threat of flooding to people.

The Calistoga Reach project was completed in November of 2014—a week later the river hit a flood stage that previously had sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes. This time, Building Official Ken Wolfe said, “We didn’t have to deploy even one sandbag.” The river rose again in 2015, and again the town stayed dry.

Today, you can see the reclaimed natural areas that in times of flood give the river room to rise, and also offer refuge to juvenile salmon and other wildlife and walking paths for people.

The South Fork project is a new side channel for the river, again giving the water places to go when the volume is high, along with great salmon habitat. It’s being completed in stages, and by the time it’s finished, it will be a mile-long side channel, the longest on the Puyallup River. Engineers Jeffrey Davidson and David Davis helped me scramble all over the site, Pointing out new channels created by the river, engineered logjams that are evolving as the river runs through, and new gravel bars and sediment deposits brought down from Mount Rainier by the power of the river. Salmon are using the site, and they’ve seen black bear and deer out there as well.

It's remarkable to see how nature can come back and revive when you give it a chance!

Integrating Climate Into Floodplain Planning

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager
Photographs by Chris Hilton, Grant Fundraising Director

Floodplain leaders from around the Puget Sound region gathered today for a workshop on advancing floodplain restoration, including a new focus on integrating climate change data.

“There’s a big gap between what we know and what we’re doing about it,” says Julie Morse, the Conservancy’s regional ecologist. 

It’s not unique to Puget Sound, we find it all over the country.

At today’s workshop, floodplain leaders will begin to develop strategies for including climate impacts into the work they’re already doing.

The Conservancy has been working with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group to take its recent Puget Sound Climate Synthesis Report and turn it into information that is really useful to city, county and state leaders grappling with these issues on the ground. Today’s workshop is a chance for floodplain leaders to work hands on with this information.


New tool can help plan for future flooding

Written by Kris Johnson, Senior Scientist, The Nature Conservancy

 Flooding is increasingly becoming a fact of life along the Snohomish River. In early December the severe flooding in the cities of Snohomish and Monroe inundated homes and farms and closed roads and a city park. For residents in the area it was déjà vu all over again, as just weeks before some of the same areas experienced a separate major flooding event. Clearly, managing flood risk along the Snohomish, and throughout western Washington, is challenging yet essential to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

And climate change is compounding this problem: warmer temperatures are leading to sea level rise and higher tides, and more winter precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow, causing flashier flows in the rivers. Understanding how flood risk is changing and incorporating best-available information into planning and decision-making is crucial for communities in Puget Sound.

With this in mind the Nature Conservancy led a recent pilot project to both evaluate how climate change might impact flooding and then provide this information to local decision-makers. In partnership with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and West Engineering we assessed how varying scenarios of climate change could alter flooding in the Lower Snohomish River and cause potentially greater impact to farms and buildings and infrastructure.

This analysis suggested that in just a few decades what is currently considered a “100-year” flood could be much more severe and could inundate part of I-5 near Everett and cause nearly 20% more costly property losses (see image).

To make this information useful and readily available we created new Floodplains by Design ‘app’ on the Coastal Resilience decision support tool so that local partners with the Sustainable Lands Strategy in Snohomish County could integrate maps and images of potential flooding into their project planning and decision-making process.

Managing increasing flood risk while sustaining high-value agriculture and also restoring salmon populations and protecting the environment will be a major challenge in Puget Sound in the 21st century. Rigorous science and sophisticated tools, like those developed by The Nature Conservancy for the Lower Snohomish River, can provide local communities with the best-available information that can help them plan accordingly. 

10 Months and 2 Days on the Dungeness River

Written and Photographed by Randy Johnson, Habitat program manager, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Aerial Photographs provided by John Gussman

Since the first of February 2015, four floods have rumbled down the Dungeness River. The first one damaged the old creosoted RR trestle and closed the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT). The three floods in the past six weeks have occurred while we've been building the new pedestrian bridge that will replace the trestle. During the floods, the river has migrated 230 feet west. Had the trestle not been removed, at least 15 pile bents - 75 creosoted piling, creosoted timbers, and bridge decking - would have been knocked down and strewn all the way from the Dungeness River RR Park to Dungeness Bay. 

It was a given that the Tribe would replace the trestle's functions for users of the Olympic Discovery Trail.  10 Months and 2 days later, the entire 585' of trestle and its dripping creosote are gone from the floodplain forever and 720 feet of salmon friendly and river worthy pedestrian bridge is connected to the ODT. All 750 feet of new bridge are now in place, and just a few relatively minor tasks remain.  The construction access road is being removed, and by the end of today both floodplain channels will be flowing free again.  You can look forward to the ODT being reopened soon.

Floodplains by Design funding was a perfect fit for this project because of the program’s focus on reconnecting rivers to their floodplains for fish and flood risk reduction, and the additional community benefit of recreational access.

Thank you everyone for your role in making this bold vision a reality.

*Aerial images depict transitional states in the river and the bridge project that don't represent current conditions.


Legislature funds innovative Floodplains by Design program

OLYMPIA, WA – Last week state legislators awarded $35.5 million dollars to the Floodplains by Design grant program in the capital budget paving the way for seven multiple benefit projects across the state to move forward.

Floodplains by Design, administered by the Department of Ecology, supports collaborative floodplain management efforts that combine flood risk reduction, habitat protection, agricultural preservation and recreational access. Projects funded by the program emphasize multiple benefits to maximize effectiveness and ensure tax dollars are well spent.

Legislators approved $33 million for Floodplains by Design in the last biennium, funding projects that supported over 750 jobs in nine locations, restored natural salmon habitats, and protected homes worth over $115 million. The newly approved funding is a testament to the success and growth of the program.

“As flood risk and clean water needs continue to grow while public dollars become more limited, it is critical that we coordinate our investments to maximize outcomes per dollar spent,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Washington State Director Mike Stevens. “The multiple benefits approach of Floodplains by Design is a model for how our state can tackle our greatest challenges.”

“We’re gratified that the Legislature has recognized the value of the proactive approach of the Floodplains by Design program. Our collaborative Puyallup basin project will reconnect the Puyallup River floodplains and will dramatically reduce the risk of flooding to communities from Alderton to Tacoma, while enhancing salmon habitat and protecting farmlands,” said Hans Hunger, Capital Projects Manager with Pierce County. “We appreciate the support for this project, and hope by the demonstrated benefits it brings many more communities will be able to follow its example of working with rivers rather than against them.”

Washington’s floodplains contain billions of dollars in property and infrastructure, and are home to Washington’s richest farmland and signature salmon runs. Studies show that for every $1 spent on flood risk reduction saves $4 in flood damages. As Washington’s communities continue to grow, it is essential to keep floodplain management at the same pace. Flooding is becoming more frequent, severe and costly, which poses a serious threat to Washington’s communities and businesses.

The funding for Floodplains by Design approved today will allow communities across the state to properly manage their floodplains and the benefits they provide

What is Floodplains by Design?

Floodplains by Design is an ambitious public-private partnership working to reduce flood risks and restore habitat, while also supporting other floodplain priorities such as clean water, agriculture and recreation, along Washington’s major river corridors. Because Floodplains by Design projects are built collaboratively from the ground up and serve diverse interests, they enjoy broad support and deliver multiple benefits. For more information visit www.floodplainsbydesign.org

Tom Bugert
The Nature Conservancy
(509) 885-6991

Partnership celebrates completion of major Snoqualmie River habitat restoration project


Work in King County Fall City Natural Area reconnects forested floodplain to river, maintains flood protection for nearby homes and roads

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager
Photographed by (1-5) Robin Stanton; and (6-7) King County

Opportunities don’t come along very often to reconnect a river to dozens of acres of floodplain and dramatically restore fish and wildlife habitat, while maintaining flood protection for nearby homes and roads.

King County’s Upper Carlson Floodplain Restoration project along the Snoqualmie River near Fall City is just such an opportunity – and a broad coalition of local, state, tribal and federal governments and organizations came together this week to celebrate completion of this complex, multi-year effort.

The work was done on King County’s Fall City Natural Area – a 50-acre forested floodplain that historically contained the Snoqualmie River’s main stem. The project included removing roughly 1,600 linear feet of aging levee that constrained the river to an unnaturally narrow channel.

With the old levee gone, wintertime flooding brought fresh flows across much of the newly reconnected floodplain, and widened the river channel by approximately 40 feet. As these natural processes are restored, gravel bars and log jams will form, providing additional salmon habitat.

Some funding for this project came from Legislature in 2013 through the Floodplains By Design program sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.

To maintain protection for nearby homes, roads and fertile farmland, project managers designed and installed log structures and a new 850-foot-long rock structure at the lower end of the site to provide additional protection where the river is most likely to migrate.

King County acquired the Fall City Natural Area with funding from the Conservation Futures Levy and Salmon Recovery Funding Board, for preserving and restoring critical salmon habitat.

The site restoration work included invasive vegetation removal, and planting acres of native trees, to improve habitat for the birds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife.

The $3.5 million project was funded by grants from:

  • Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration via Washington Recreation and Conservation Office and Puget Sound Partnership; 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via The Nature Conservancy; 
  • Coordinated Investment for Puget Sound Floodplains Initiative sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and administered by the Washington Department of Ecology; 
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency via the Snoqualmie Tribe; 
  • King County Flood Control District via Cooperative Watershed Management Grant; and 
  • King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

For more information, visit the project website, or contact Mary Maier at 206-477-4762 or mary.maier@kingcounty.gov.

Strategizing A Future with Healthy Floodplains


Innovative Topics on Display at the Floodplains by Design Management Meeting

Guest blog by Gordon White, Program Manager, Shorelands & Environmental Assistance, Department of Ecology
Photograph by (1) Andy Porter, Northwest Photographer

What do we want our rivers and valleys to look like in ten years? How can we strategize and plan now so that we have reduced flooding, clean water and ample wildlife habitat a decade from now? Those are some of the topics that were tackled at Floodplains by Design Management meeting hosted by The Nature Conservancy, Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Partnership.

“Fun” and “enlightening” are not words you usually hear after an all-day workshop on a beautiful Friday in Seattle. Yet I came away from the gathering feeling I’d enjoyed myself and gained important new insights into our challenges and our work.

The workshop was a working session with key leaders and project proponents from across the region with an interest in advancing integrated floodplain management and implementing Floodplains by Design-like projects. It presented an opportunity to continue the dialogue on what “it” is; what makes for useful planning scales and timeframes; and how to talk about success measures and stories.

Bob Carey from The Nature Conservancy gave an overview of the Floodplains by Design initiative, which created a strong entry point for everyone to work from as they discussed the finer points of the program. Jim Kramer, who specializes in building collaborative programs and initiatives, facilitated moving the dialog from conceptual to specific.

Cogs began spinning for attendees when Carol MacIlroy, a specialist in natural resource planning, shared a regional vision and planning scale along with timing. Participants were challenged with how best to capture the multi-benefit approach in their watersheds and regions. The Nature Conservancy’s Kris Johnson of gave a clear explanation of a GIS tool that creates new possibilities for scoping projects, leaving participants eager to learn more and try the tool.

For a summary of the legislative process and the Capital Budget we turned to Tom Bugert of The Nature Conservancy. The time is critical for this kind of information, and participants were empowered to play a role in fostering a successful outcome to the current legislative session.

We covered a lot of ground in one day and it was truly a team effort – one that is sure to yield long term results around our region. Results that will help our communities and ecosystems thrive well into the future.

You can learn more about Floodplains by Desgn.

Related Blog Posts

Orting Honored for Puyallup River Project

Restoring Nature to Protect People

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BIG: Topic of the day at Puget Sound floodplains conference


Orting Honored for Puyallup River Project

City receives the 2015 Municipal Excellence Award

Written by Tom Burgert, Government Relations Associate
Photography by Keith Lazelle

The Association of Washington Cities announced that the Town of Orting is a recipient of a 2015 Municipal Excellence Award. Orting is being honored in the Small City Success category for their groundbreaking work on the Calistoga Setback Levee through new, innovative Floodplains by Design grant program.

The new 1.6-mile Calistoga Setback Levee protects the City of Orting from flooding, widens the Puyallup River channel, restores natural habitat, and promotes salmon recovery.

You may remember that Orting was featured in the Seattle Times last fall. Orting Mayor Joe Pestinger wrote:

“We broke ground on the $17 million project in March 2014. On Nov. 25, the new infrastructure was tested as the Puyallup rose to the same flow that flooded our town in 2009. But this time, the new levee held. It was tested again in December and in January. It worked. The benefits to people are obvious and immediate: safety, community well-being, economic security.”

Read the whole piece here

In the same breath of commending the town of Orting, it is also critical to note that this successful project would not have been possible without the Floodplains by Design program, which funds local projects that substantively reduce flood risks and restore habitat, and that may also improve agricultural viability, water quality and recreational access.

Funding for Floodplains by Design is being considered by the state Legislature right now. The State House proposed $43 million for 12 top ranked projects around the state. The State Senate proposed not funding the program.

Visit our take action page to learn more about how you can get involved in restoring funding for this important program so that more towns like Orting can celebrate successes for public safety.

Restoring Nature to Protect People


By Bob Carey, Strategic Partnerships Director
Photography by USGS, Bridget Besaw

Many people know that healthy rivers and associated wetlands support a large array of fish and wildlife, and that their worldwide degradation is a driver in the loss of biodiversity – including the declines of the Pacific Northwest’s iconic salmon runs. Fewer know that restoring rivers can also help protect people from the hazards of flooding and climate change.

Pierce County and the City of Orting, however, are an exception. After decades of costly and unsuccessful efforts to “control” the Puyallup River through the construction of riverbank levees and revetments, the County and City are pioneering efforts to work with nature – restoring the river and its floodplain, and reducing flood hazards as a result. Earlier this month, the National Weather Service formally acknowledged the success of this work by more than doubling the river flow volume at which it issues Flood Warnings on the Puyallup River.

For the last several years Pierce County and the City of Orting have been working to give the river more room – by voluntarily acquiring property in high risk areas, setting levees back from the river edge and reconnecting side channels, wetlands and other flood prone lands. Some of this work has been assisted by an innovative new funding program spearheaded by the Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Partnership and The Nature Conservancy called Floodplains by Design.

The National Weather Service’s decision came after monitoring flood risks during recent high flows. This winter the Puyallup River experienced multiple flow volumes which historically would have led to evacuations, large sandbagging efforts and potentially significant human and financial damages. This year, those costs were avoided. That’s a big deal.

What’s more is that through their efforts to give the river more room they have not only reduced the costs associated with flooding, they have restored critical salmon spawning and rearing habitat and created new riverfront greenways for public recreation. More benefits, fewer costs.

Now that’s success.