GARDENA -- A project that will keep millions of gallons of water in the Walla Walla River was given a red-ribbon sendoff Wednesday.
Surrounded by wide green fields watered by the Gardena Farms Irrigation District, officials dedicated a $2.2 million system that has replaced 5.5 miles of open canal with 4.5 miles of pipeline.
"The pipeline will save almost 1,740 acre feet (of water) per year," said Mark Wagoner, one of the irrigation project's directors. Since one acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons, that means more than 566 million gallons of water will remain in the river for the benefit of fish and other wildlife.
Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Bonneville Power Administration and an additional $881,789 from the state Department of Ecology, work on the piping project began in December 2009 and was finished in March, just in time for the growers who would need the water. "We got the water into the pipes and the pumps turned on right on March 15," said Greg Kinsinger, project manager with the Walla Walla County Conservation District.
Along with saving water and lowering pumping costs, just under seven miles of canal were filled in as well. "This project covered enough old canal to return 33 acres of road right of way and access easements to production (farmland)," Kinsinger said.
Project partners speaking at Wednesday's event all said the construction was a true "win-win" for farmers and fish.
The water conserved by the project will improve about 37 miles of the Walla Walla River by increasing its stream flows, said Sarah Brannum of the BPA. "The fish win with more water, Gardena Farms Irrigation District gains a better delivery system and the local economy has gained jobs," connected with the construction, she said.
One of those taking part in the ceremony was E.C. Burlingame IV, the great-grandson of E.C. Burlingame, the engineer who surveyed and designed the district's canal system in 1982.
"We were one of the first ones to hook up (to the new system) and we were able to double our production," he said.
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.
The Gardena Farms Irrigation District 13 traces back to the last decade of the 19th century when it began as the Walla Walla Irrigation Company.
Construction of canals began in 1892 to irrigate the fruit orchards which were the primary crop at that time. The company became Gardena Farms in 1928.
The district diverts water from the Walla Walla River at Burlingame Dam, named after E.C. Burlingame, the engineer who designed the original canals. The dam and diversion are located west of College Place.
The water is carried to users via three major canals. An inverted siphon, 1.44 miles long, is used to pipe water across Pine Creek drainage.
Water is diverted into the district's system during two time periods per year, early March to mid-July and early October to late December.