Upstream Of Damaged Dam, Farmers Can’t Reach Columbia River For Irrigation

Mar 12, 2014

Thousands of acres of high-value cherry and apple orchards behind the damaged Wanapum Dam are at serious risk in eastern Washington.

It turns out farmers don't have long enough straws to pump out of the Columbia River now that the water has been lowered there to stabilize the dam.

State officials say there could be thousands to millions of dollars of prime pear, cherry and apple orchards at risk. Irrigation districts and farmers are scrambling to secure additional water pumps and pipes to reach the river, but they’ll need multiple permits.

“We’ve been in consultation obviously with both [departments of] Ecology and Fish and Wildlife. And they’ve assured us that they will expedite these permits and do everything they can to get these things through in a very timely fashion,” said Bud Hover, director of the Washington state Department of Agriculture.

But Hover estimates there are hundreds of permits to run through with just a few weeks left until the irrigation issue reaches a critical point. Even more farmers who irrigate from deep wells near the river might run dry, too, according to state officials. 

Dozens of eastern Washington farmers are expected to meet with state officials in Wenatchee on Thursday night to discuss the issue.