Mismanaged Irrigation Systems Leave Farmers With Little Water

Jul 17, 2015
Rowan Moore Gerety / Northwest Public Radio

Water that reaches the lower end of the Wapato Irrigation Project has already traveled more than 20 miles through a network of ditches and canals covering an area the size of Chicago within the Yakama Nation Reservation. Lately, though, water hasn’t flowed at all in some corners of the project,  putting a dent in the $250 million of crops grown there each year.

The Roza Irrigation District in Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley is shutting off the water for two weeks because of drought. About a billion dollars in crops are on the line.

Across the Northwest, farmers are already making tough calls because of this year’s drought. The dismal snowpack is to blame.

Benjamin Cody

Construction begins this week on a state project in the Methow Valley that will give fish a boost of cold, clean water in rivers near Twisp, Wash.

The state and a trout conservation group are pouring about $10 million into a whole new irrigation system there.

Back in 2011, the Methow Valley Irrigation District was fined more than $30,000 for its old, leaky irrigation system. The state determined it was wasting water through too much seepage in its open canals.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Farmers in eastern Washington who want to get into the marijuana business may face an immediate hurdle. Right now the U.S. government is deciding whether it will give growers access to federal water. The agricultural heart of the state depends on these irrigation systems.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Dozens of central Washington fruit farmers are still high and dry without water for their valuable fruit trees. Many irrigation pipes don’t reach the lowered Columbia River behind the cracked Wanapum Dam.

But it turns out the farmers’ rush for water is now being slowed because of concerns over endangered tiny baby salmon. 

Anna King

And now an update on the cracked Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington.  Dam engineers are continuing to keep the pool behind the ailing structure drawn down to relieve pressure.  So far they don’t know how bad the crack in the dam’s spillway is, but they are still investigating.

Water struggles in the Klamath Basin are spreading to the Trinity River. Managers at the federal Bureau of Reclamation say by releasing extra water from the Trinity into the Klamath River, they may avoid a fish kill.

The Oregon Water Resources Commission has approved temporary rules that prioritize drinking water for people and cattle in the Klamath Basin.

A major irrigation canal has sprung a leak in Eastern Washington. That could stress crops across a huge swath of the Columbia Basin just as the weather inches up into the 80s this weekend.

The river-like Main Canal of the aging Columbia Basin Project is largely out of commission. Six concrete panels that line it buckled and have to be replaced. Workers have to lower the flows on hundreds of miles of canals downstream from the break for days so they can pour new concrete.