Irrigators Struggle To Secure Fish Screens And Water In Time
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 salmon.
Farmers only have days before access to irrigation water becomes critical. State Fish and Wildlife officials are on the scene issuing verbal permits to extend irrigation pipes so they can reach the lowered river.
But it’s tiny juvenile salmon that are the real hold up. The extensions must have a specific fish screen with with the right surface area -- otherwise they will not be allowed to pump water. Bad screens can suck up tiny fry or get them stuck.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Jim Brown says only a handful of fabrication companies design or modify these types of screens.
“All that takes time," he says. "And so time has been our real enemy in trying to get these irrigators back connected to the water and still protect fish life.”
The small baby salmon have just begun emerging from the Columbia riverbed.