Snoqualmie River flooding threatens local flower farmers

FALL CITY, Wash. -- Some of the most beautiful and affordable flowers in Puget Sound are grown by local families in the Snoqualmie River Valley.

Unfortunately, some of the worst flooding that threatens those blossoms happens in that very same valley.

"That's Mother Nature. We can't control floods we can't predict it," said flower farmer Bee Cha. "There's no way we can do anything about it."

Recent rain caused minor flooding along the Snoqualmie River on Tuesday, triggering a phase 2 flood alert. The worst is certainly yet to come.

"It's very unpredictable, "Cha said.

His family's flower farming business is among about thirty operated by Hmong immigrants in and around the Carnation area. Most came to this country as refugees from their homeland in Laos. Some have been farming for three decades. They found a niche in farming and have developed a reputation for a wonderful product.

"We produce some of the best and freshest flowers around here," Cha said. "At a very low price, too. We take pride in that. We're able to bring that to the market."

It's sometimes a wonder they can bring their flowers to market at all. Admiring the generous $10 and $15 bouquets farmers's sell at Pike Place Market, you'd never know how close the flower bulbs sometimes come to rotting in flooded farm fields.

A King County report found that the Snoqualmie River Valley has experienced 23 floods since 2006. And that particular year nearly wiped out some of the Hmong family businesses.

"My family, we lost about 80 percent of our crop. Tulips, iris, dahlias.That's mainly our cash crops," Cha says.

That represented about a $40,000 loss for his family -- about a million dollars combined loss for all of the families farms in the area.

Cha recalls seeing relatives paddle out into the flooded fields to dig up and save as many bulbs as possible. They still have to do it when the flooding catches them by surprise.

"We have cousins and farmers who go out there in a boat, you know, canoes, trying to salvage whatever is left," Cha said.

Some blame climate change for the severity and frequency of the flooding. Some farmers think development up-river contributes, as well.

Most of the Hmong families don't have the money to buy their own farmland, so they lease. That leaves them with little power to make upgrades that could better protect crops and equipment during floods. Land in less flood-prone areas is more expensive and out of reach for most of the farmers.

Might the flooding put Cha's nine-acre operation out of business?

"We're always going to survive somehow. But it's definitely getting more and more difficult now," Cha said.