The Floodplains by Design Partnership hosted a workshop on February 26 to provide stakeholders across Puget Sound and Washington State with an update on the Floodplains by Design program as well as an opportunity to network and share ideas with others working to improve the area’s floodplains. Approximately 170 representatives of local, state, and federal government, tribes, agriculture, land trusts, private corporations, and other floodplains stakeholders attended the workshop. Key takeaways from the workshop include:

  • Floodplains by Design projects are already showing benefits on the ground, including reduced damage during recent flood events, and a pre-workshop survey highlighted the success floodplain managers around the state are having implementing multiple-benefit planning efforts and projects.
  • Workshop participants were in support of a proposed approach for creating regional and watershed visions for Puget Sound floodplains to help build support among stakeholders and potential funders.
  • Attendees spent the majority of the workshop sharing ideas and approaches with each other through one-on-one conversations and through small group breakouts sessions covering collaboration with the agriculture community, integrated management, sediment management, and permitting.

Bob Carey, The Nature Conservancy, presented a general overview of the Floodplains by Design initiative. Floodplains by Design seeks to promote an integrated approach to floodplain management that would reduce flood hazards, restore salmon populations, increase agricultural viability, improve water quality, and enhance recreation. In addition to the Department of Ecology’s grant program, Floodplains by Design also supports the work happening at the local level; aims to increase local capacity; highlights needs, challenges, and successes; and fosters coordination amongst agencies/groups to make policy and administrative changes as well as provide funding. Floodplains by Design projects funded by the Legislature in 2013 are already showing benefits on the ground. For example, the Calistoga Levee Setback in Orting has already reduced damage during a flood event; in a November 2009 flood, 26,000 people were evacuated, while a flood with similar flow levels in November 2014 caused less than a dozen evacuations.

Jim Kramer, consultant to The Nature Conservancy, presented highlights from a pre-workshop survey, which over 100 people filled out. Survey responses highlighted the success floodplain managers and project leaders around the state are having implementing multiple benefit projects and planning efforts as well as the continuing challenges to get projects permitted, manage multiple grants and have the capacity for the critical conversations with stakeholders to build trust and support.

Carol MacIlroy, consultant to The Nature Conservancy, presented an approach for creating a regional vision for Puget Sound floodplains. The Floodplains by Design initiative is seeking to develop a compelling regional vision for action and results based on the work in the local floodplains across Puget Sound and other parts of the state. This information is essential to advocate for funding needed at the local level and encourage coordination of and policy changes at the state and federal level.   It also supports implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda. At the local level having a compelling vision and strategy can help build trust and support for the needed actions. Carol presented examples from the Skokomish, Dungeness, and Green-Duwamish watersheds, highlighting the similarities and differences between the floodplains. She proposed an approach that would group river reaches based on the broad strategy for that reach, allowing for local floodplain visions and strategies that are tailored to local conditions but can be rolled up to a regional vision with a few key measurable results.

Workshop participants were invited to provide comments and ask questions about the approach for a regional vision. There was broad support in the audience for this approach and agreement that there is local as well as regional benefit. Comments spoke to the need to focus on regulations and protection of existing functions, the importance of articulating the trajectory of the watershed if no action is taken, the value of having comparable metrics across watersheds, and the difficulty of establishing consensus on what the strategy should be in some floodplain reaches.

Following the group discussion, the workshop split into four breakout sessions. In a breakout session on developing stronger relationships with the agriculture community, conversation focused on the need to provide a net gain for both the environment and agriculture. A net gain for agriculture could mean a net gain of land in production. It could also mean making farm businesses more profitable and sustainable. The group also discussed the value of approaching the agricultural community at the local level, discussing needs with individual land owners to identify potential win-wins. There was interest in learning more about the economics of agriculture as it is changing in Puget Sound. It is important to understand that farming is a business that needs to make a profit for the farmer to be able to continue farming. Farmers are more likely to consider changes that affect them if there is an understanding and interest in what their needs are and the constraints they have.

In a breakout session on integrated management for flood and ecosystem functions, the group discussed their successes and challenges in integration. Participants identified important components of integrated planning, including technical understanding, staff longevity, and participation from decision-makers and citizens. The group discussed the importance of establishing a trust loop, where early success encourages stakeholders and funders to join the effort. Challenges discussed included old paradigms that continue to damage floodplains, an inability to adopt channel migration zones, and difficulties integrating salmon plans with flood hazard plans. The group discussed potential pitfalls of adopting metrics and the need to share the stories of projects to build support. Participants shared future visions of floodplains where cities can weather floods without major damages and where floods can be celebrated.

Paula Cooper, Whatcom County, facilitated a breakout session on sediment management which featured three speakers. Colin Thorne, ESA, spoke about sediment management on the North Fork Toutle River, where sediment quantities are still being affected by volcanic eruptions that occurred over 200 years ago. Trish Byers and Todd Essman from Pierce County presented a local perspective on sediment management and the need for a toolbox of sediment management techniques. Eric Grossman from USGS presented information on sediment modeling in the Skagit watershed and the potential impacts of sediment on estuary habitat restoration efforts.

In a breakout session on permitting, a small group of project sponsors and regulatory agency staff talked about specific issues sponsors have encountered in the permit process. Issues discussed included the slow pace of permitting, difficulties aligning the permitting timeline with project timelines, and complications with mitigation requirements. Three potential solutions identified by the group were early involvement by all players, including use of pre-application meetings; better agency guidance, especially relating to mitigation tradeoffs; and solutions that drill down into project specifics.

When the full group of workshop attendees reconvened after the breakout sessions, Jim Kramer asked feedback on the breakout sessions. Comments included the need to engage young people in the work; the importance of having conversations with the broad range of stakeholders; the need to share information and approaches; a desire to hear directly from farmers and others who work with the agriculture community; a desire to learn more about farming practices in other areas that are designed to work with periodic flooding; the importance of land use and how governments management growth; the need for regulatory agencies to be more involved when development is proposed in floodplains; the need for entities proposing Floodplains by Design projects to initiate stakeholder and partner engagement early in the project development process; and the need for climate data.

In an update on funding programs, Gina Bonafacino from EPA’s Puget Sound Team reported on EPA’s efforts to revise their funding model for fiscal year 2016. EPA received comments on four potential funding models and will announce a decision on March 10. Anyone interested in attending or joining a teleconference line should contact Angela Bonifaci at Gordon White from the Department of Ecology reported on the Floodplains by Design grant program. Ecology is looking for projects that bring stakeholders together to address flooding and habitat and can be completed in two to four years. Ecology is working to improve the grant program based on comments received about eligibility, project scoring, project ranking, and how success is measured. Ecology plans to hold a workshop later this year when the state budget for the next biennium is adopted and will work closely with others to build the grant program in the future. Comments on the grant program can be sent to Scott McKinney at Tom Bugert from TNC reported on the ongoing lobbying efforts to secure funding for Floodplains by Design. Ecology requested for $50 million in capital funding for the top 14 projects in the state and the Governor’s budget includes $25 million. In a related effort, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature to raise around $3 billion in funding for a competitive grant program for water projects. Those interested in participating in outreach to legislators can contact Tom at

Bob Carey concluded the workshop by highlighting the value of the conversations and information-sharing that happened at the workshop and his hopes that the conversations will continue. The Floodplains by Design program is evolving in a positive direction, but there is more to do to truly integrate our work. We want to make substantive strides toward recovering ecosystems and salmon, reducing flood risks, and advancing other floodplain priorities. We hope the local and regional integrated planning vision will be a mechanism to bring people together to develop collaborative visions.

Over 45 workshop attendees filled out a feedback survey after the workshop. Feedback was very positive, with over 90 percent of respondents saying they made a connection that will benefit them in their work and over 80 percent saying they are still pondering something stimulated by the workshop or by a connection they made. Respondents identified the breakout sessions and the opportunity to connect with colleagues as the most valuable parts of the workshop. One respondent stated, “Don’t give up. We need to continue to make the connections between floodplain habitats and their importance to people, infrastructure and natural resources.”

The Floodplains by Design Management Team (The Nature Conservancy, Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Partnership) will use information from the workshop to guide the work of FbD over the next months. We will provide you with more detailed updates in the coming weeks on how the information is being used and key milestones.