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Grand Coulee pumping plant to re-open March 1

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says there will be an adequate water supply for spring irrigation when a Grand Coulee Dam pumping station reopens in March. Irrigators are still "skeptical," says Mike La Plant, director of the Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says irrigation water will be flowing in time for spring irrigation needs through a Grand Coulee Dam pumping station, but farmers say they will be keeping an eye on the situation.

The bureau recently released an update on damages to John W. Keys III Pump-Generating Plant, caused by a Nov. 18 fire. The bureau anticipates all six pump units in the plant will be available to fill Banks Lake prior to the 2014 irrigation season, calling for a “normal” irrigation water supply in the Columbia Basin.

Mike LaPlant, director of the Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District and president of the Washington State Farm Bureau, said the update eased irrigators’ concerns slightly.

“But we’re still skeptical, I guess you might say,” he said. “Over the past year, in their weekly status reports, rarely have there been six operational pumps or pump generators throughout the year.”

LaPlant is concerned about the availability of the pump generator units and the extent of the damage caused by the fire.

Pump generators will become operational after the March 1 deadline. Grand Coulee Dam public affairs officer Lynne Brougher said between five and six pumps are needed for irrigation purposes.

There are six pumps and six pump generators in the plant. All units are contaminated to some extent by smoke residue and other potentially hazardous materials and must be thoroughly cleaned and tested before undergoing routine offseason maintenance and returning to operation.

Cleaning began Dec. 6, with additional cleaning crews being hired temporarily to expedite the process. As units are cleaned over the next two months, they will be brought back into service, according to the bureau.

Brougher said in a press release that the bureau expects to have six pumps operating “on or before March 1.”

The pump plant has been out of service since the fire, according to the bureau. The fire was contained to the south end of the pump plant at the dam and caused damage to the switchgear fro Pump Generator 12.

An employee injured in the fire, Dan McCulloch, continues to be cared for at Harborview Medical Center in Spokane, according to the bureau.

The fire is under investigation. Brougher expects a report from the investigative team near the end of January.

LaPlant would like to see continued updates from the bureau directly to irrigation district directors.

“We’re going to keep a vigilant eye on them to make sure everything gets done on time,” he said.

Irrigation managers are receiving weekly updates, Brougher said.