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Irrigation Canal Rupture Could Stress Many Eastern Washington Farms

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.

One grower feeling the water shortage is Nick Johnson. His 6,000 acres of irrigated farmland near Connell are at the end of a long canal fed by gravity. And everyone upstream of his corn, wheat and potatoes gets water first.

“With the warm weather approaching we were hoping to get ahead, but it appears we’re going to be further behind now because of the canal shutdown.”

It’s not ideal. But Johnson and other farmers say: better a main canal break now, than in July and August.

On the Web:

Columbia Basin Project - Bureau of Reclamation

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.