Irrigators alter drought project

Peshastin Creek along U.S. Highway 97 at Campbell Road south of Peshastin, Wash., on Aug. 27. Low flow because of drought caused irrigators to get more water out of wilderness lakes.

PESHASTIN, Wash. — Icicle Irrigation District has switched gears on a drought relief project for Wenatchee Valley pear growers because helicopters were too busy fighting wildfires to the north to help.

In early August, the state Department of Ecology approved a $41,000 grant to pay half of the project. The district isn’t using that but is applying for $12,500 to pay half of a less ambitious plan, said Tony Jantzer, manager of the Icicle and Peshastin irrigation districts.

The districts serve about 8,000 acres, mostly Wenatchee Valley pear orchards. The Peshastin canal draws from Peshastin Creek and is supplemented by the Icicle system in drought years. The Icicle has rights to 8,070 acre feet of water in five lakes in the Alpine Wilderness some 2,500 feet above Icicle Creek.

The week of July 20, the Peshastin district reduced water to growers one-third, from 6.75 gallons per minute per acre to 4.5. The Icicle district began drawing on the lakes. In order to get an additional 800 acre feet from Eight Mile Lake, the district planned to have a helicopter fly pumps to the lake for temporary use.

Because it couldn’t get a helicopter, district workers are manually digging out partially clogged outlets from Eight Mile and Colchuck lakes which should gain about 250 acre feet of water, Jantzer said. The Icicle district also reduced its growers from 6.75 to 4.5 gallons per minute on Sept. 1 with hopes both districts will have water through Sept. 25, he said. That’s still ending the season about a week early.

Growers are in full swing of d’ Anjou pear harvest and mostly shut off water during harvest, watering trees again after harvest, Jantzer said.

“Growers seem pretty happy. There’s some sun damage and other issues but I haven’t heard anyone say they are damaged from lack of water,” he said.

Pears are a half to one size smaller because of excessive heat, but less water shouldn’t affect them that much more, said Jim Koempel, a grower and Peshastin Irrigation District board member.

“We limped through with what water we had. We just had to manage it more tightly,” said Randy Smith, a Cashmere grower on the Peshastin district.

There may be more watering than usual after harvest because things are dry, Koempel said.

“We will get through this year, my concern is next year,” he said. “We’ve got to get snow this winter because the lakes won’t carry us another whole season.”

The 8,070 acre feet will be mostly used up by the end of this season and won’t be replenished without a good winter, he said.

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