OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today issued an emergency declaration designed to help farmers maintain or re-establish access to irrigation water from behind the Wanapum and Rock Island dams in Central Washington.
The declaration, which will remain in effect through April 30, applies to Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Kittitas counties. It comes in response to the discovery in late February of a cracked spillway at Wanapum Dam, operated by the Grant County Public Utility District near Vantage. Some irrigators' intake pipes were left above the water line when the Wanapum Pool was drawn down to reduce pressure on the dam.
The Wanapum drawdown also has affected water levels behind the Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee, operated by the Chelan County PUD. Irrigators who pump water from the Rock Island Pool may be forced to modify their irrigation intakes, though the water level there is closer to normal than in the Wanapum Pool.
Jeff Davis, deputy director of the department's Habitat Program, said the emergency declaration was needed to prevent damage to orchards and other water-dependent agriculture operations in the four counties, and to guard against the threat of environmental degradation.
"Our primary goals are to help get irrigation diversions quickly reconnected to the water, and to make sure those diversions are screened to prevent the loss of endangered fish stocks," Davis said. He said WDFW personnel will be in the area this weekend to work with irrigators and local officials.
Davis said the declaration will enable the department's field staff to more quickly issue Hydraulic Project Approval permits (HPAs) that are required for work that diverts the flow of state waters. HPAs are required under state law to protect fish and their habitat and are an important tool for protecting salmon, steelhead and other fish, Davis said.
The Rock Island Pool will be drawn down during flow tests this weekend, scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23. Chelan PUD officials said the tests will give irrigators an idea of the water line and flows expected during the coming irrigation season; help determine what modifications will be needed to make sure migrating fish can safely swim upstream past the dam; and help PUD and WDFW staff assess what will be required to ensure recreation access through the spring and summer.