The Kittitas Reclamation District has budgeted $320,000 to repair a rock trap that is vital to getting water to farmers on the north branch of the district.

KRD farmers can expect to pay up to $11 more per acre this year, depending on the quality of their land.

The current rock trap, which was constructed about 85 years ago, was designed to keep rocks from entering they 3,200-feet-long siphon that allows water to pass under the Yakima River and state Route 10, before exiting on the north side of the valley.

However, that trap hasn't worked very well, said KRD manager Urban Eberhart.

"A lot of times, rocks have made it through that rock trap and then they've gone into the tunnel," he said.

The canal goes through rocky areas and occasional rocks fall into the canal and make their way toward the siphon. Once in the siphon, there is not enough pressure to get the rocks to the other side of the valley. They then tumble inside of the siphon, pounding against metal plates.

Rocks could damage siphon

If one of those plates comes lose, it could be catastrophic for farmers on the north branch of the district, Eberhart said.

"What we don't want to occur is the rocks to knock one of those plates down and create an obstruction in that pressure tunnel," he said. "That would be very bad. Instantaneously, you would have a bunch of water up on the cliff not making it through where it has to go."

The canal forks near the siphon into two branches.

Most of the acreage the KRD serves is on the north branch canal.

If a plate blocked the siphon, KRD would have to stop the water flow, which would prevent farmers from getting the water they need for their crops.

"If you could imagine having something like that occur in May, when it is so critical to have every drop of water going and having to shut the system down," he said. "It would be horribly disruptive and it would shut the system down at a critical time."

The siphon carries water through a pipe 150 feet under the Yakima River.

To repair the siphon would require a repelling team, extrication team and a backup teams.

"You'd have to shut the whole system down, get that water out of there and get people in that hole," he said.

The plan is to fix the rock trap before more rocks get caught in the siphon.

"We need to fix the cause of the problem first and then we can go in and do the repairs," he said.

KRD has a new design for the rock trap from a Richland-based engineering firm.

Construction on the new rock trap is expected to begin in mid-October, after the irrigation season ends.

Conservation

After the project is completed this year, KRD will be able to focus on more projects, including conservation, Eberhart said.

"In future years, the board will decide which conservation projects will be the highest priority," he said. "After going through a year like we just went through, it just underscores the importance of doing everything we can to be as efficient as possible and have as much conservation as possible."

There's $85,000 budgeted again this year for conservation, he said. That includes spraying the concrete lined sections of the canal to prevent water from leaking out.

KRD plans to continue adding piping and lining throughout the canal system in the following years as well, he said.

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