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Farmers Upstream Of Wanapum Dam Can't Reach Columbia For Irrigation

Anna King
Northwest News Network
File photo of a cherry orchard in Eastern Washington

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

With Spring about to fully pop, Eastern Washington irrigation districts are getting ready by cleaning out canals and testing pipes. So farmers are alarmed that the Columbia River has been lowered beyond their reach.

Washington 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 Ecology and Fish and Wildlife," says Bud Hover, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. "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.”

Hover estimates there are hundreds of permits to run through and just a few weeks left before irrigation water becomes critical.

Even more farmers who irrigate from deep wells near the river might run dry too, state officials say. Dozens of Eastern Washington farmers are expected to meet with state officials in Wenatchee this Thursday night to sort it out. The meeting will also be streamed live.

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.