Farm pads proved their value in protecting livestock in the first major test since the 2007 flood

By Eric Rosen / ericr@chronline.com

Memories of the 2007 Chehalis Basin flood are still hauntingly vivid for our farmer Brad Gregory.

Within hours, his farm and property located along Bunker Creek Road along the Chehalis River were inundated with torrential water. In an effort to raise his cattle to higher ground, Gregory and his family drove 100 sheep into an 1890-era barn.

It was a chaotic sight, which Gregory and his family had not experienced in their 14 years of living there.

“We took a boat trip from here to a store back, then took a helicopter back to high school,” said Gregory, 65. We’ve had an amazing amount of help.”

The flooding was known to be particularly deadly for livestock in the upper basin. Gregory’s property was no exception. About three-quarters of his sheep died as a result of the December 2007 flood, and the survivors likely lived by keeping their heads above water by standing over the bodies of the deceased.

Memories of the flood are still etched on the barn’s waterlines, although things are largely back to normal.

In the years following the flood, the Gregory family had a 10-foot ranch built on their property to park livestock and valuable tractor equipment in preparation for the next “big” event. Gregory, who stands on top of the unkempt structure, said he hasn’t had to use it much since it was built.

“This could have been the closest (for 2007) and the elevation, it wasn’t close,” Gregory said of the January floods in the Chehalis River Basin.

But for many of the more than two dozen farm pads — also known as critter pads — built in the Chehalis Basin after the 2007 flood, last month’s flood was the first real test of how the structures can reduce the loss of livestock and valuable items, Kelly Verde said. , Special Projects Coordinator with the Lewis County Conservation District.

So far, according to the comments, the pads seem to be working.

“We’ve had a couple of people who want to expand it because once they’re using it, they think, ‘Well, I have some equipment I’d like in there too,'” Verde said.

The Lewis County Conservation and the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority have played a pivotal role in connecting property owners and farmers with funding sources to build farming platforms, including Gregory’s, which was funded through a federal Natural Resources Conservation Service grant. Most cushions were built in the immediate aftermath of 2007, Verde said.

“I think we’ve become a model across the country by doing these farm pads,” said Edna Vand, vice president of the Flood Control Authority as well as the daughter of a farmer. “One farm is not like another.”

Because of the basin-wide partnerships, the fund said, organizations and governments have been able to work together to build these structures in many counties that lie within the Chehalis Basin, although most are in Lewis County.

It is also effective in that it is tailored to the specifications and needs of each landowner.

“These not only protect property, they protect communities and ensure resilience and that people will be able to return to work,” said Scott Butcher, a Flood Authority worker for the Chehalis River Basin. “It’s kind of super simple, but we didn’t have it before and now we have it. I look at them as a good example of living with floods.”

About 80 to 90% of the flocks affected by the floods were inundated during the 2007 floods, Buetcher said. It was devastating not only financially, but also emotionally for many farmers and farm workers.

Butcher said the farm’s cushion structure — compact, structurally sound mounds covered in grass and gates — is “stylish in its simplicity” and gives farmers “a sense of comfort so they can sleep at night.”

They have proven very effective. I mean, we haven’t had a “07” event since 2007, Boecher said.

He’s heard reports that property owners within the Newaukum River sub-basin – which experienced record-breaking floods in January – have successfully used their platforms this time around.

The financial return on the structures was also noteworthy, Boecher said. The basin’s 25 or so total platforms were built with nearly $600,000 in funding and mitigated damage or loss about 14 times.

“If it works out on someone’s farm, I think it’s a great idea,” said Michael Shelter, an Adna cattle farmer who has about 300 dairy cows.

Shelter said she doesn’t own a fawta, but she recently purchased about 100 acres of hillside land adjacent to her property so they could use it to run cattle on the hillside.

“It was just a life change,” she said of the 2007 flood. “We had water in our house, and we had water in the dairy. I had three young children. It was just disastrous. We were fortunate that we didn’t lose animals as many farmers in the area did, but we lost a lot of fodder.”

The run-up to last month’s flood showed that many rivers in the Chehalis Basin were scheduled to reach or exceed historical flood stages, although the weather proved more favorable and allowed many communities to “dodge the bullet” of a similar 2007 flood, and many County and city officials said.

Shelter said there has certainly been some post-traumatic stress in the community as farmers began moving their livestock, equipment and tractors to higher ground last month. Butcher said there were no reports of livestock lost to floods in January.

Although water began to cover parts of Bunker Creek Road during this latest flood, Gregory, owner of Black Sheep Creamery, said his family wasn’t too concerned about flood risks. The only loss this time was some wet fodder that the sheep were still feeding on.

“It will probably be higher than we thought it would be,” he said. “That was above 09 for us.”

Gregory said he would drive his sheep at least once a year to the farm with a bucket of grain to help graze the grass. Standing on top of the structure, Gregory notes how it is about 4 or 5 feet higher than the ’07 floodwaters were.

Grazing them up the slope, he said, is not the same as pulling out a tooth. It is rather simple.

It’s just another tool in the box – just another safety net.

just in case.

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