First Griffin Creek flooded. Now farms and fish can return following completion of innovative King County project.

Heavy rainfall in 2019 and 2021 caused more than just water from Griffin Creek to surge over the banks and fan out across farmer Todd McKittrick’s fields.  
Sand, gravel, and rock swept across 15 acres of McKittrick’s fertile land along Griffin Creek, rendering the acreage unusable for farming. The torrent also left adult coho salmon returning to the creek’s spawning grounds stranded in a field amidst the debris and grass, with many of the fish dying before they could complete their journey. 

“There was so much sediment that had come down from the mountains that it plugged the whole creek,” said McKittrick, whose family farms 50 acres where Griffin Creek enters the Snoqualmie River just south of Carnation. 

“You could actually walk on the old creek like it was a gravel path. And so, when the rains came, it would push the water across the fields,” he said. “In order to spawn in the creek upstream, the salmon would literally have to swim across the grass to get to the creek.” 

Andrew Stout of Griffin Creek Farm – formerly Full Circle Farm, and a neighbor to McKittrick – tells a similar story. 

“We are stewards of the land, and so we understand the cyclical nature of rains and water and drainage. However, in the winter of 2020, in February, there was an exceptionally big rain event that really just hit our Griffin Creek watershed and brought down an amazing amount of gravel,” Stout said. “We had spillage over the banks above and below both of the barn structures. And flooding in the barns and in the house all through the shop. It was a big mess.” 
Stout said gravel that came down into the fields had also plugged the creek channel to the point that there was even more flooding throughout the fields once spring planting season was underway. Stream flows that were normally contained within Griffin Creek’s streambanks spread across farm fields. 
“We realized that the creek had fundamentally changed its depth and definition,” he said. “We had about eight acres already planted in corn and beans – the first of a total 30 to 40 acres planned for planting that year – when we realized that the fields would be too wet to plant,” he said. 
For several years Griffin Creek Farm was unable to do a spring plow because Stout knew a big fall rainstorm would knock out the crops. 
“So instead of having our six-month growing window, which we’re used to in the Pacific Northwest, it got down to around a 60-day guarantee and that would not work for our vegetable operation,” he said. 
“We have a very important salmon-rearing creek, and we have farms and farm infrastructure that have been highly impacted by flooding at this location,” said Andrea Mojzak, the lower Snoqualmie Basin Steward for King County, who helped lead the project to restore Griffin Creek for usable salmon habitat and to return the adjacent farmland to usable agricultural land.  
“Having a project that balances those needs and doesn’t create more of a flood impact is extremely important for farmers and fish in the Snoqualmie Valley going forward.” 
Projects such as Griffin Creek are at the center of the Snoqualmie Fish, Farm, and Flood accord. The cooperative approach dates back a decade to when King County Executive Dow Constantine brought together Snoqualmie Valley representatives to discuss ways of getting past conflict and obstacles between groups that in the past had not always agreed on priorities when it came to land-use management, flood-risk reduction actions, and salmon recovery. 

“Fish, Farm, and Flood brings the various  landowners and organizations that work on the landscape in the Snoqualmie Valley together,” said Eric Beach, King County’s agriculture regulatory and permitting specialist with the Water and Land Resources Division. “It allows us to look at the landscape collaboratively, and this is important because salmon, farms, and flood control all use the same river corridors.” 

Specifically on Griffin Creek, there are farmers impacted by high flows and excessive sedimentation from heavy rainfall upstream. The sediment deposition limited access for salmon to migrate upstream to spawn. Griffin Creek is an important salmon stream – particularly for coho salmon, which prefer smaller creeks for spawning. 
The multi-year Griffin Creek Project elements include: 

  • Removing recently deposited sediment along about 1,600 feet of the Griffin Creek channel that forced flows into the farm fields 
  • Creating an overflow side channel that increases this location’s ability to handle occasional increased stream flows and provides additional habitat for fish  
  • Installing logs and root wads in the stream channel to create a more complex stream habitat that better mimics natural conditions 
  • Planting native trees and shrubs along Griffin Creek to provide shade that helps keep water cool and 
  • Replacing two small bridges 

“When we replant all of this area with native trees and shrubs later this year, we’re going to get a riparian corridor that provides shade and food for the creek and salmon, something that wasn’t here before we started the project,” Mojzak said. “And as you walk along the creek, you can see a lot of logs placed in the riverbank that will help create some complexity and over time help this look more like the natural creek that it was before.” 
“We’re looking forward to seeing the salmon actually being able to spawn up the stream and not swim across the field,” McKittrick said. “This also gives us the opportunity to start reusing this field for agriculture.” 
Stout agrees with his neighbor – and he sees the work in Griffin Creek as having benefits beyond these two farms. 
“Even though some of this ground is still lowland and may get flooding from the Snoqualmie, we are going to be able to put it into its best and highest use, which I feel is to grow food for our local community,” he said. 
“The beautiful thing about this project is that this is a need that’s going to be realized over a number of these important creeks here in this basin. So finding a way to work like this, which is highly desirable – good for fish, good for flooding, good for farms – was necessary.” 
“This project was important to complete to help the viability of the nearby farms,” Mojzak said. “We are really balancing the fish, farm, and flood interests in the Snoqualmie Valley. And with this project we tried to improve salmon habitat, to reduce the flood risks on these nearby farms, and to come up with a solution that really was win-win.” 

Lou Beck, with King County’s Agricultural Drainage Assistance Program, designed the Griffin Creek project, working with the county team, regulatory agency staff, tribal biologists, and the landowners.  

The King Conservation District (KCD) collaborates with King County to complete drainage projects. The KCD drainage manager, Liz Stockton, managed the Griffin Creek construction and obtained grant funding to cover contractor costs and purchasing materials. The Snoqualmie Watershed Improvement District provided important technical services. Throughout the project, the team consulted with the Snoqualmie and Tulalip tribes, receiving valuable input from Matt Baerwalde and Matt Pouley, respectively.  
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