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Erick Haakenson

Erick Haakenson


Snoqualmie Valley Farmers Fight Floods With Lawsuit

Liz Jones

This time last year record–level floods soaked the Snoqualmie Valley. The deluge was the last straw for some farmers in the area who say the floods have gotten worse in the past few years.

Haakenson: "Those of us who've lived here a long time and watched the floods very closely are quite convinced there was an event that occurred in the year 2005 that changed everything.

That's Erick Haakenson of Jubilee Farms in Carnation. The event he refers to is an Army Corps of Engineers project that widened the river above Snoqualmie Falls. When the Corps authorized more work at the falls, Haakenson and others fought back with a lawsuit. KUOW's Liz Jones has our story.


Winter is typically a quiet time of year on Erick Haakenson's farm, except of course, for the cows.

Haakenson: "Let's go around this way. It'll be a little less muddy."

We slosh through his fields. The ground is still soggy from a recent flood.

Haakenson says the winters aren't so quiet anymore. In recent years three of the four largest floods on record drenched the valley.

Haakenson: "What's it look like? A giant lake, with current in various places. Yeah, everything gets covered. From where we stand looking back to the barn. It might seem surprising to you but where your car is parked it would be completely underwater right there on the top of a big flood. This building right in front of here, the eaves would be in the water on a big flood. That's how much water we're talking about."

Those eaves hang at about nine feet. Parts of the farm sit on higher ground, since it is in the flood plain and flooding is expected. Lately though the waters have surged to new heights.

Snoqualmie Valley farms send a steady supply of organic produce to the Seattle area. But Haakenson worries about the valley's future.

Haakenson: "I know farmers who've moved away from here — good farmers too, and I hated to see them go — because of the flooding. Others [who] wouldn't even consider this because of the flooding."

Haakenson doesn't blame Mother Nature for the worsening floods. He blames the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2005 the Corps completed the so–called "205 project," that widened the river above Snoqualmie Falls in order to reduce flooding down below in the city of Snoqualmie.

Haakenson: "Comes down quickly over a steep falls, Snoqualmie gets rid of it then it hits the flats and we're stuck with it."

Now Haakenson fears they'll be stuck with even more flooding due to another project the Corps authorized upstream of the falls. This project is an upgrade of Puget Sound Energy's (PSE) hydro–electric facilities.

Haakenson joined together with several farmers, business owners and neighbors to sue the Corps. Their group is called the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance. Their lawsuit claims the Corps failed to fully consider how these projects above the falls affect flooding downstream.

PSE has aligned with the Corps in its defense of the suit. Roger Thompson is a spokesman for the utility. He says it took PSE more than a decade to obtain its license for the upgrade project.

Thompson: "And during that time period we had to do years of public consultation, a host of different studies, environmental studies, hydrological analysis. And the impacts of the project were in fact studied at length. Now some of those were sort of offshoots of some analysis that had been done by the Corps of Engineers as part of its 205 project."

Haakenson takes issue with those studies and analysis. He says they're based on old data. His alliance wants a new study to examine how work at the falls affects flooding in the valley. And they're hopeful an updated study would lead to flood mitigation and guide or halt future development.

In the meantime PSE is going ahead with its construction. The work includes changes to a small dam above the falls.

Thompson: "There is sort of a little bit of a bottleneck at the falls and the diversion structure does in fact back up some water upstream. And so the license is ordering us to lower that diversion structure a couple of feet in order to lower flood waters in the City of Snoqualmie."

Haakenson's group fears that work could exacerbate the floods. Their lawsuit also claims the PSE project requires a more thorough permit process. Instead, Haakenson says, the Corps took a shortcut.

Haakenson: "There would've been hearings, we would've had a chance to give input. So basically we feel like they went around our backs so we wouldn't find out, and they did this."

The Army Corps of Engineers declined to comment for this story since the case is still pending in federal court. However, court documents show it defends its permitting process and analysis of downstream effects.

Back down in Snoqualmie Valley Haakenson checks in on his 70 cows.

He points to some black lines he's drawn on the side of the barn — they're the high water marks from 2006, 2008 and 2009. He hopes 2011 won't top the charts.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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