PASCO, Wash. — The South Columbia Basin Irrigation District will be seven days late providing water to growers this month as it finishes repairing canals damaged by spring runoff.
A Presidents Day warm-up with rain caused snowmelt and flash flooding that damaged fields and closed roads in Franklin County and damaged irrigation canals in several places, said Dave Solem, district manager.
Kevin Moss, a grower near Eltopia, north of Pasco, posted a video on FaceBook of a large sink hole and waterfalls in his alfalfa field. He could not be reached for comment.
Solem said the Feb. 20 flash flooding filled the Wahluke branch of the district’s canal, south of Othello, with mud for half a mile and blew out about 20, 20-by-15-foot concrete panels from the sides of the 60-foot-wide, 15-foot-deep canal. The panels are 4 to 6 inches thick.
It took three excavators 10 days to dig out the canal and new panels were to be poured the week of March 5, he said.
“District employees have really stepped up to get the work done. We’ve had damage in springs past but not this much,” Solem said.
About 1.5 miles of panels were damaged on the Eltopia branch and damage in other places is still being found, he said.
“Normally at this time of year we’re doing normal maintenance for spring startup. This is setting us back,” he said.
The start of charging canals with water has been delayed from March 6 to 13 and first water will be available to growers on or around March 29 instead of the 22nd, he said.
Charles Lyall, a district board member and Mattawa grower, said a seven-day delay in water should not be too big a hardship this season because it’s a cool, late spring, so far, with tree fruit buds developing slower than normal.
“I’m sure growers will be ready to take water when we have it. If it warms up, they will want water,” Solem said.
The South Columbia Basin Irrigation District is one of three large districts served by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Columbia Basin Irrigation Project fed by water from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam. It is the largest water reclamation project in the U.S., using an average of 2.65 million acre-feet of water annually.
The district irrigates 230,000 acres of farmland growing 70 crops but mostly alfalfa, potatoes, wheat, tree fruit, corn and grapes. The diversion is at Potholes Reservoir northwest of Othello and the district runs from the Adams-Franklin County line south of Othello to Pasco, bounded by the Columbia River to the west and Highway 395 to the east. It includes Mattawa and Wahluke slope.
The district has 110 employees and operates a $21 million annual budget.