By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

DRYDEN, Wash. -- It was a cool April 1 morning and Bill Stoner, a canal patrolman for the Wenatchee Reclamation District, checked a gauge at the start of the Highline Canal off the Wenatchee River.

Water ran swiftly, a little more than 2 feet deep. Just a short chunk of the canal was opened, but in a few days water would flow through 34 miles of canal from Dryden to the town of Rock Island.

The Highline serves irrigation water to 9,000 customers. Two-thirds are farms, mainly pear orchards, and the rest are residents and businesses.

The Highline is the second oldest canal on the Wenatchee River, dating back to 1902 when the reclamation district was known as the Wenatchee Canal Co.

Men and horse-drawn implements were used to dig the canal, which was considered a major engineering feat in its day. Wooden flumes curved around hillsides before being replaced with three miles of tunnels from 1915 through 1917.

The canal crosses the Wenatchee River in a reverse siphon pipe, which was originally made of wood. It crosses the Columbia River on the 1908 Pipeline Bridge in Wenatchee.

Irrigation districts throughout Central Washington are in varying stages of starting flow. Dates vary depending on how fast the weather warms and the amount of tumbleweeds and other debris to be removed from canals.

The Roza Irrigation District, serving Selah to Benton City from the Yakima River, charged its system March 17 and made water available to some tree fruit growers for frost protection on March 24. It will be in full swing by mid-April, said Tim Collett, assistant manager.

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