As the autumn rains begin, so do efforts to conserve water and improve its quality.
The Dungeness Irrigation District has two projects on the horizon to pipe irrigation water taken from the Dungeness River that otherwise flows through an open ditch to its users.
The district's ditches have been around for decades, but in recent years the Sequim-Dungeness basin's water supplies are being tapped by more and more people.
As a result many irrigators are piping their ditches to conserve water and stop runoff from impervious surfaces or agricultural activities from trickling into their irrigation water.
"Plus, the pipes will save us a lot in maintenance costs," said Dungeness Irrigation District board chairman Fred Mitchell. "We have over 20 miles of ditches and that becomes pricey to maintain and it's the goal of the entire Dungeness Valley Water Users Association to reduce the loss of water through open ditches."
Mitchell said the district has not pursued a major piping project yet, making these two projects its first, although other districts have piped a majority of their main and lateral ditches. For instance the Clallam Ditch Company and the Cline Irrigation District have piped nearly all of their ditches.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about the Cline-Clallam project and its results, including area farmer Dave Cameron. He also is a part of one of the Dungeness district's new piping plans and hopes for the best while expecting similar results as past projects.
"These projects are not easy on existing farms, the construction phase can be devastating," Cameron said, indicating he lost a significant amount of profit from crops due to the Clallam-Cline project. "I'm trying to be patient with this new project. I even helped them out. But my expectations are not high."
Cameron applied for and won a federal cost-sharing grant that is being used to pay for part of one of the projects. The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe is contributing funds from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant it recently won.
Mitchell said one benefit his district has from waiting to pipe its ditches is being able to learn from other companies' efforts to pipe theirs.
"We've been paying attention and we hope to get these first two projects done quickly and with little impact to landowners or leasers," Mitchell said. "But the grants have time tables attached to them so we need to act now."
Initially, the district board planned on creating a master plan for its whole system to identify which areas needed piping, funding opportunities and the overall feasibility of each project before starting construction.
The plan still is being formed, but in the meantime the district is getting a head start by piping its diversion from the river and by piping a section that is known to have contamination problems, according to the Clallam Conservation District.
The Clallam Conservation District coordinated the grant applications and gave technical assistance for the piping projects' planning.
The first project begins off Western Way, about a quarter-mile west of the River Road roundabout. It travels north about 4,500 feet to where the ditch intersects with Hendrickson Road.
"Estimates show this piping project will conserve a significant amount of water," Conservation District manager Joe Holtrop said, indicating it could save approximately 1.5 cubic feet of water per second from seepage and evaporation.
"It's public grant money that is funding these projects so many people ask what the public benefit is. That benefit is that more water is made available for the public by keeping more water in the river."
The state Department of Ecology is in the process of giving the Dungeness River a water right and creating an instream rule to support that right. In determining what water is available in order to award additional water rights after the rule is formed, it is considering conservation efforts made by irrigators.
The second project is more oriented toward water quality, according to Holtrop.
"The other project will pipe about 3,000-4,000 feet of the district's main canal from the Dungeness (River) dike east to Towne Road," Holtrop said.
In both projects the open ditch will be dug up, replaced with a large pipe and covered with fill.
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