WENATCHEE, Wash. — Three irrigation districts serving some 3,000 acres of cherry orchards now have the federal permits they need to get Columbia River water but have been delayed a week by a contractor.

Kevin Juchmes, water manager of Stemilt Irrigation District, said he hoped the project would be done this week but that the contractor, Selland Construction, of Wenatchee, couldn’t drop other projects that fast.

“We’re now looking at next Monday (May 5) to place the coffer dam in the river,” Juchmes said. It will take a day to build the dam, of 4-by-4-by-4-foot sand bags, in a horseshoe extending about 75 feet into the river, he said. Water will be pumped from that area so that excavators can dig trenches 11 feet down for the placement of two, 36-inch diameter, 80-foot long, steel pipes for water to flow from the river into an existing pond and system that pumps water up more than 2,000 feet in elevation to orchards.

Previously water has flowed through rocks from the river into the pond but that hasn’t been working at lower river levels. Lower levels have been caused by a drawdown caused by a crack in Wanapum Dam some 58 miles downriver.

The pond pipe project is expected to take three to five days. Permits for it were slowed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over archaeological concerns and fish screens for the pipes meeting National Marine Fisheries Service approval, said Ryan Walker, an environmental consultant for Kyle Mathison Orchards, a major orchard in the effected area of Stemilt Hill and Wenatchee Heights.

River levels have been temporarily high enough that up to about 1,600 gallons of water per minute has been pumped from the pond to orchards this week but 2,700 gallons per minute is needed, Juchmes said. About 100 acres of young orchard will be in jeopardy next week when the system is shut down and the pond de-watered for the work, he said.

“It will be 80 degrees. So it will be pretty hot for those young trees to go without water. That’s why we got water on them this week,” he said. Normally, the system starts up May 1.

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