When Joanne Dimond’s grandfather started the family dairy farm 80 years ago, he would carry jugs of fresh milk to nearby Clear Creek to keep them cool.
Today, after repeated overflow by the same Puyallup Valley waterway, Dimond, 72, and her family have decided to sell their property to Pierce County for a flood-prevention project that will turn the area into a wetland.
“We didn’t want to sell,” said Dimond’s husband Robert, 78, adding that they committed to selling in November because repeated high water made the land almost unusable.
“You pay taxes on this place, and you can’t use the property,” he said.
The county has been buying flood-prone properties for a program called Floodplains for the Future. Low-elevation areas of the Puyallup Valley that have been lost because of urbanization will be converted to flood-preventing wetlands.
Neither party wanted to talk about how much the county is offering for the Dimonds’ property until the deal closes, but county records show the assessed value of the land in 2016 was $772,100. A property’s assessed value, which is used to calculate property taxes, often is much less than the market value.
Money for the project comes from a $9.2 million state grant, with the county contributing 20 percent of the cost in matching funds.
A recent backup of Clear Creek covered about 40 acres of fields shared between the Dimonds’ farm and neighbors, so Robert Dimond and his son took a small motor boat out on it.
Water around his house was at least 2 feet deep.
“The water was up to the bottom of the deck,” Robert Dimond said.
When the nearby Puyallup River rises, two floodgates that control the flow into Clear Creek close to prevent the levee from breaking.
As a result, the creek overflows into the low-lying properties alongside it.
“It basically just fills up a giant bathtub,” said Helmut Schmidt, a county Surface Water Management engineer involved in designing wetlands and a levee for the floodplains project.
As the Tacoma area was developed, about 5,000 acres of estuary, which absorb excess water, were lost. This, Schmidt said, might contribute to repeated flooding — it happened three times in 2015 — on Clear Creek.
In the 1990s, Pierce County began using a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to buy properties affected by repeated water damage.
Today it owns 150 acres. Several recently purchased homes across from the Dimond property are vacant, boarded-up and awaiting demolition.
The county plans to build a levee for Clear Creek within the next 15 to 20 years to protect the remaining properties from flooding.
A committee of stakeholders meets monthly to find common ground on environmental, agricultural and safety expectations for the floodplain project.
They include Pierce County Surface Water Management, the PCC Farmland Trust, the Pierce Conservation District, the Port of Tacoma and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.
“We’d like to get it to something a little more natural,” Schmidt said, adding that the Dimond property, at 32 acres, was one of the largest affected areas and an essential piece of the project.
Joanne Dimond grew up on the farm after moving from Tacoma when she was 9 years old.
She and her husband took over the 25-cow dairy farm from her father in the 1970s. They sold milk to Smith Brothers and Carnation until the late 1980s, when they switched to raising horses.
Robert was in the Army special forces at Fort Lewis when he began working at the farm. He milked cows in the evening after work using a stainless steel mechanical milker that piped the milk into refrigerated holding tanks.
Joanne took the morning milking shift.
The kids, Robert said, “helped all the time.”
Every July to August, Robert and his sons harvested hay for the cows and loaded the hayloft to the rafters.
Family visited for major holidays, and more than 10 weddings were celebrated on the farm.
Robert said he loved to look at Mount Rainier during sunsets on clear days in the fall.
“That thing is blood red,” he said.
The sale to the county will close May 31. Robert said he will remain for a few months to salvage wood from some of the decades-old barns.
He plans to reuse the wood on a new cattle ranch that he, Joanne and one of their sons are building in Eatonville.
“No matter how much money they give us here,” he said, “it will never pay for the memories.”