On December 3, 2012, policy R-650 is introduced in the King County Comprehensive Plan to establish a watershed planning process to address conflicts within the Snoqualmie Watershed, including the Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District (APD). Topics to be addressed include agricultural viability, ecological function and habitat quality, and the restoration of floodplains. After an aphid infestation destroyed the hops crop in 1890, farmers in the valley shifted to the dairy industry, but government regulations, flood control, and urban development brought the decline of dairying in the valley during the 1950s. The Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District (along with four other APDs) was designated in 1985 to preserve the remaining farmland. Severe weather and flooding continue to impact the ADP, yet policies and programs such as the Farm Pad program have helped farmers with flood-control measures.
The Snoqualmie River Valley’s Agricultural History
The 45-mile long Snoqualmie River Valley is situated between Seattle and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and includes forests and agriculture, fish and wildlife, and outdoor recreational opportunities along the river's course. The three main tributaries of the river drain the west side of the Cascade Mountains near the town of North Bend and join above Snoqualmie Falls. After the falls, the river flows north through the agricultural production district and past the towns of Fall City, Carnation, and Duvall before meeting the Skykomish River, where they join to form the Snohomish River near Monroe.
The Snoqualmie River Valley's agricultural heritage began with seasonal berry and root crop harvests long before the first permanent non-Native settlements above Snoqualmie Falls in the 1850s and 1860s. The logging and timber industry provided wealth for early settlers expedited by the onset of railroad infrastructure, but as the industry slowed and died out, agriculture moved in. Hops production, which dominated surrounding valleys, was introduced in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley near Fall City in the late 1870s. Fast money came to those who grew the cash crop, until an 1890 aphid infestation destroyed nearly the entire crop.
At the turn of the century, farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley shifted to dairying, which remained the dominant form of agricultural activity for the next 50 years. An example of the valley's trend is witnessed by the Meadowbrook Farm, an 800-acre site of a former hop ranch which turned to specialized dairying by 1904 and was successful into the 1950s. Several factors were responsible for the success of dairy farming in the valley: the decline in land values after the aphid infestation resulted in smaller parcels requiring a more intensive form of farming, rail infrastructure expanded, and dairying technology advanced, making it economical for farmers.
Another factor in the success of dairy farming was the timely new market of evaporated milk created by the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. Created by the Carnation Company, operations extended the length of the Lower Valley. By 1920, dairying had become the predominant agricultural activity in the valley, made easier by the introduction of irrigation practices. The valley near present-day Carnation became world famous as the "Home for Contented Cows."
Preservation Efforts and Agricultural Production Districts
Although the Snoqualmie Valley boasts of a history in successful hops production and as a leader in dairying for over 50 years, its agricultural distinction began a slow decline beginning in the 1950s as farmers experienced an increase in government regulations, the continued battle against flood control, and growing development pressure surrounding the valley. Although development was undoubtedly slower in the valley than 30 miles west in Seattle (the first stoplight in Duvall was installed in 1995), the growth was encroaching on the agricultural lands and thousands of acres of productive farmland in the county were lost to development. For the first time, regulations were approved in 1979 to preserve the agricultural industry and stop its rapid decline. Voters approved a $50 million bond issue to purchase development rights to preserve the shrinking farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program. More than 14,500 acres in the Snoqualmie Valley were designated for the second-priority round of acquisitions.
Preservation efforts continued with the 1985 designation of five Agricultural Production Districts that were part of King County's new Comprehensive Plan. The plan divided the county based on major land-use designations, including those for the protection of farmlands in the Resource Lands designation. Within this designation, five Agricultural Production Districts were established that contained much of the Farmland Preservation Program's lands. The 41,000 acres in the five districts -- Snoqualmie Valley, Sammamish Valley, Lower Green River Valley, Upper Green River Valley, and Enumclaw Plateau -- prioritized agriculture and contained the most suitable growing conditions available to farmers in the county.
Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District
The Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District was designated as the second largest district in King County at approximately 14,500 acres following the Snoqualmie River from the northern edge of the county at the city of Duvall south to Fall City. The district was designated in two sections, separated by the city of Carnation.
The findings of a 2009 county report revealed changing trends in the valley. Livestock/forage had remained the valley's largest land use over the previous several decades, while market crops including produce and flowers had increased in popularity. Located only 20 minutes east of Seattle, the organic farmers in the valley generally turned from dairying to seasonal produce that attracts urban visitors to their farms. Due to the location of the district in the river valley, nearly one-third of the district has been considered unused or unavailable for farming. Water bodies, land too wet to farm, and forested land make up these nearly 4,800 acres within the district. One of the greatest threats to the agriculture in the valley is weather and flooding, with approximately 75 percent of the district classified as floodway. The agricultural lands are not viable unless drained, yet the presence of protected fish species makes the drainage process complicated.
Flooding and Severe Weather Impacts
Severe weather in the form of drought or flood has devastating consequences for farms. Although farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley have been more accustomed to floods that wash away or compact soil, and damage or even destroy crops and structures, farmers have also been forced to adapt to drought. Siri Erickson-Brown and Jason Salvo of Local Roots Farm derived a method of watering the soil while planting seeds by adding a bit of creativity to their John Deere tractor. "Right now we're king of doing this dance between making sure crops we need for next week's (CSA) boxes are getting that last little push and aren’t getting overly stressed," said Erickson-Brown, "and balancing the need to keep some of our big fall staple crops, like kale and potatoes, alive" (Baskin). Following a 2006 flood, King County convened the Snoqualmie Flood Farm Task Force, which recognized the impacts of severe weather on Snoqualmie Valley farmers and developed 16 recommendations to address flooding.
The task force recommendations included code changes specific to the Snoqualmie Valley. One such set of policies related to alluvial fans, deposits formed from the deposition and migration of stream channels. Although alluvial fans are unstable, they create the highest ground plane in a floodplain and so farmers have historically built their houses and other farm structures on top of them. Due to their unstable nature, farmers have typically moved sediment from the alluvial fan to protect their operation from migrating stream channels. However, farmers are no longer allowed to remove sediment because alluvial fans, in addition to providing high ground for farmers, offers the best available spawning habitat in a tributary stream. Without moving sediment to protect against migrating channels, farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley have seen damage to their structures. The 2008 King County Comprehensive Plan introduced policies to support these affected farmers in coordination with solutions to protect fish habitat. The Snoqualmie Farm Flood Task Force also recommended the construction of farm pads, elevated structures higher than the 100-year flood elevation that provides a safe area for farm equipment and livestock. In King County, the thirty-seven farm pads are found only in the Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District.
Fish and Farms
The Snoqualmie Valley is home to the 14,500-acre agricultural production district, and historically, salmon bearing streams. However, over the past 100 years of agricultural history, the vegetation adjacent to streams and the river has been converted from its natural riparian areas that create the needed shade and water quality benefits for aquatic species, to productive land for farming. The 2012 update to the King County Comprehensive Plan added a policy that called for a collaborative watershed planning process to address the major issues within the Snoqualmie Watershed, "maintaining and improving agricultural viability, improving ecological function and habitat quality, and restoring floodplains" (King County, Office of Performance Strategy and Budget).
The Snoqualmie Fish, Farm, and Flood Advisory Committee established a package of 34 recommendations in April 2017 to balance the interests between people, businesses, fish and wildlife. The recommendations were based on each interest group agreeing to support each other's highest priorities, such as: flood-risk reduction for valley landowners, accelerating habitat restoration progress, accelerating comprehensive agricultural drainage progress, and preserving the agricultural land base.
The Snoqualmie Valley Agricultural Production District Riparian Restoration and Agricultural Partnership Building project was established following the April 2017 recommendations. The project developed Ecosystem Management Decision Support system models to identify riparian restoration opportunities without harming the agricultural economy.