Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Columbia River water users get quick decisions on water access

By Brook Beeler, communication manager, Eastern Region

Tension was high in early March when the first reports of irrigators without access to water came in to state and local agencies. Thousands of acres of high value fruit orchards were at stake. The Columbia River system had been lowered in response to a crack in the dam near Vantage.

Many state officials made a promise that projects in need of permits would be made quickly. Both state and federal agencies had to ensure that appropriate requirements for safety, in-water work, fish screening, cultural resources, and legal water use were met.

Orchards need water for irrigation and pest management. (Photo credit: wikimedia.)
Permits have been authorized for all 16 irrigation projects brought forward for approval. Close coordination among federal, state, and local partners has allowed irrigators to get to work.

Successful partnerships

“The cooperation among state and federal agencies was key to moving the permits quickly,” said Department of Agriculture Director Bud Hover. “I also really appreciated that we had a seat at the table during this process. Even though we are not one of the permitting agencies, we were able to give voice to the concerns of the farmers and growers affected.”

State departments of Agriculture and Ecology worked with the Washington Conservation Commission to fund local conservation district staff to make technical assistance visits and help farmers through the expedited permit process. Coordination among local PUDs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation were also pivotal in securing expedited permits.

“Believe it or not, most folks don’t want Ecology knocking on their door even if it is to help,” jested Central Regional Director Tom Tebb at a public meeting in March.

Providing access to water

“Since our initial meeting in March,” Tebb recently reflected, “We have been fortunate to have such willing state and local partners. Within days, local conservation district and Fish and Wildlife staff were paired to provide technical assistance to farmers and growers with permitting needs.”

Water users at any time through this historical drawdown of the Columbia River may call Ecology’s water resources customer service representatives to report a concern about their surface water intake or groundwater wells.

Customer service phone lines: Chelan, Douglas, and Kittitas counties call 509-575-2490; Grant county call 509-329-3400

For detailed and up-to-date information visit our website: Wanapum Dam structural damage could affect water supply.

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