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Monday, November 23, 2015

Down on the Frohning Farm...

I had occasion this past week to check out the effects of the Skykomish River's unwelcome visit at the Frohning Family Farm. Prompted by a call out from social media, I was on a meals on wheels type of errand: to deliver some baked chicken and potato salad to the cleanup crew and other volunteers who had pitchforked and shoveled themselves up an appetite at the farm. Because the southbound route to Frohning Road was accessible only by watercraft, I had to circle the Loop to the low road and even then had to creep north through two pools of residual floodwater. First, I'll relate how things went down and then share Matt Frohning's story of how the floodwaters came up.

I left the food with Sandy and Terri who directed me to the dairy barn where Matt was hard at work cleaning up the mess left behind by the bullying Sky. I'm no stranger to the Valley's dairy barns and knew enough to wear my barn boots for the on-site visit. So glad I did: the road to the barn was a quagmire, as you might suppose...and of not just mud, either. After all, the farm's a dairy, right? I headed to the barn, threading my way through the Frohnings' flock of free range chickens. A couple of roosters eyed The Ripple's credentials and cleared me to pass.

In the barn I found Cameron hard at work switching out the flood-soaked bedding one stall at a time."The cows were standing in two feet of water here in the barn," he told me. All waterlogged bedding had to be shoveled from each stall and replaced by fresh, dry wood shavings. Cameron was working on the second bay when I arrived. We had a brief conversation before Matt tractored in a hopper full of fresh shavings which he funneled into each one stall at a time. He emptied the hopper, throttled back the tractor, stopped to  tattle-tale on the Sky, and relate the rest of the story. The gist of our exchange follows:

"I went to bed at 8:30, hoping to get a good night's sleep, awoke at 11:30 and found the Sky knocking on our barn door. I called Jim Werkhoven to warn him the river was on the rampage, but no answer [Jim and Delores were at an industry meeting, high and dry in Minneapolis]. By 12:30 the water was up to the floorboards on the tractors and I moved them to higher ground. Fortunately the river crested, so I didn't have to move the herd to higher ground. I don't think I've ever seen the river come so fast," Farmer Frohning told me, "and from that direction." Not surprising because after each flood event, the river's hydraulics change. One has only to peer over the railings of the Lewis Street Bridge to see the mounding gravel bars that displace water and push floods to new levels in the Valley with each subsequent inundation.

At this point our conversation takes a strange twist, turns to last summer's drought, irrigation, water rights and such. Matt tells me the farm has water rights he never knew existed. This past week, however, it appears the Skykomish River owned the water rights and at Mother Nature's mandate, darn well exercised them. But I know and respect Matt Frohning and have this message for the Sky, other rivers and their floodwaters. Ebb and flow as you will. In Matt Frohning you've met your match. Rogue river, you'll learn not to trifle with the likes of dairyman Frohning. He's beaten you time and again. In the end he'll prevail.

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