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Flooding is becoming the new normal for Snoqualmie Valley farmers

Kristin Haakenson
Jubilee Farm
David Haakenson rows two of his children across floodwaters above West Snoqualmie River Road, near Jubilee Farm, on Thursday, Feb. 6. His family has owned the farm since he was 4. He and his wife bought it a year ago.

Pacing behind his cow barn, David Haakenson looks out over the farm where his family has lived since 1989.

Today, it’s surrounded by water from the Snoqualmie River.

“It’s all frothy and logs are going down, and we’ve got water all around,” he said. “I’ve got all my tractors and trucks and vehicles, and all the animals, up here on this raised-dirt mound, and my house is a stone’s throw away, and I’ve got my row boat in the driveway.”

Haakenson was 4 years old in 1989, when his family moved to what is now Jubilee Farm in Carnation. Last year, he and his wife Kristin bought the business and property. They farm produce sold through community –supported agriculture groups, and raise animals for beef, poultry and pork.

The farm saw a big flood in 1990, and several more since. But in the last year, there have been at least five, with two just in the last week.

“I think it’s a unique experience in the history of the farm.”

This most recent event is a problem, but it’s more nuisance than devastation. It’s winter, so the crops aren’t in. The animals are safely gathered on higher ground. The equipment is out of harm’s way too. October was a different story.

That flood came when crops were still in the ground. Haakenson said he watched pumpkins float away.

So, aside from the fact that his family has been there since he was in preschool, why farm in a floodplain?

“There’s really no place left in King County to farm on a bigger scale,” he said. “River valleys make good farm land. The soil is rich. We can go out and plow and disc and spade and plant vegetables and we’ll never hit a rock.”

Farmers here plan for floods, but not this many and not this intense. Haakenson says he watches flood gauges “religiously,” and is impressed with the amount of information he can get, and the predictions meteorologists are now able to make.

A local nonprofit, the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance, is hoping to give farmers like him even more info. They’ve placed their own gauges in the Snoqualmie River, and connected them to a website where farmers and others can check the river levels.

Executive director Cynthia Krass says the gauge project is a work in progress – some of the stations are offline, having been submerged in this latest event, but they’re going to move them higher when the waters recede.

And Haakenson has ideas about what might be responsible for the more frequent flooding, and he wishes there would be more studies to explore the impacts of development, especially on those downriver.

But the bottom line, he says, is that the floods are unsettling. Even without crops in the ground, fast-moving water can scrape away essential topsoil and, of course, cause property damage.

“I have a really hard time sleeping when the water’s coming up,” he said. “When you make your living off a piece of ground, it’s really hard to sleep when it feels like it’s in danger.”

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.