Ditches piped, neighbors concerned - County, city looking to recharge groundwater lost to project
By Evan McLean Staff writer
Sequim Gazette Wednesday, August 1, 2007
When local water providers finished up this year’s round of piping irrigation ditches, Barbara Booth, of Carlsborg, was left out of the system.
“My daughter and I were not connected although we are the homestead of what used to be the 50-acre Booth farm ran by my father who was president of the Clallam Ditch Company,” she said. “All of the houses that are on that land got irrigation water except us.”
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Water Users Association officials, in charge of piping the valley’s irrigation ditches to conserve Dungeness River water and runoff contamination, said the Booths will be connected soon.
“We had a huge project this year, piping 17 miles of ditch and individual home hookups,” volunteer project manager Al Bruck said. “We will be hooking people up, like the two houses in Carlsborg, once the irrigation water is off for the season and we can work with the pipe again.”
Until then, Booth has a hose running from her neighbor’s property across the street along what is now a dry ditch.
Booth isn’t the only one complaining. People in her neighborhood and across the valley are taking issue with the project. Officials, however, are adamant that they will fix issues with the water-line and that there will be enough water for humans and fish.
“Barbara was worried her well wouldn’t support irrigation and home needs, there’s a lot of wells out here,” neighbor Bruce Bergren said. “So running a hose for her was no problem; my only problem is the shoddy job the contractor did on these lines.”
Bergren has what looks like a cobblestone, dirt road running in his backyard. The rocks that once lined the bottom of the ditch are now on the surface. His neighbor’s fence lies on the ground across the new backyard road. He said the contractor; Mountain West of Port Orchard, told them the fence was their problem.
“I was told the project would finish up looking like they were never here,” Bergren said. “Now they refuse to clean up the rocks. I have stumps where they cut down our trees and now I’m going to have to hire someone to clean up.”
“Those Sequim potatoes were there before the ditches were,” project operations manager Jim White said. “I don’t think we would be able to take out all of the rocks along the entire line and its laterals, it’s the nature of Sequim’s soil.”
The new system has been working great since the season started, according to White. There were a few blowouts in the line during initial start-up tests, but none during the irrigation season.
The Water Users Association, made up of seven irrigation districts and companies, organized the project and its environmental impact statement.
Portions of the seven groups’ lines are piped as a result of this project or past ones. Irrigation districts, four in the valley, are created under state law and users pay a tax for access to the water. The three irrigation companies in the valley are private organizations where shareholders are the users.
Some people in the county do not have rights to irrigation water and depend solely on their wells.
Howard Chadwick, of Dungeness, said that he agrees with the goals of the piping project, to support river life and to curb chemical runoff into the bay. However, he is concerned about his well.
“Now that the ditches are piped, we’re not going to get the aquifer recharge we have been getting in this area for decades, “ Chadwick said of the more-than-80-year-old Cline Irrigation ditch.
“In a nutshell, the EIS says there will be impacts from implementing the water conservation plan, like on ground infiltration to small streams, wetlands and the shallow aquifer,” said Clallam Conservation District manager Joe Holtrop, who helped write the grant proposals.
The environmental impact statement also suggests homeowners can drill shallow wells deeper.
“We just want to make sure we have water in our wells, “ Chadwick said. “It makes sense to me to take water out of the river during its peak flows, store it and put it back in thee ground later when it is dry.”
The county has an artificial recharge project, which proposes to do just that. Sequim also has a project but it is a little different.
Clallam County hydro-geologist Ann Soule organized a scenario to test just how much water escapes into the aquifer by flooding abandoned ditches in Carlsborg. The test ran into a few snags, but findings may lead to another round of testing.
“Based on the flow of the river and competing demand from irrigators, we weren’t able to run enough water for definitive results,” Soule said. “We haven’t synthesized the data however, so we will see.”
Once the data is compiled, Soule will be able to determine if streams down gradient of the test were augmented by flooding the ditches and if well levels were affected. Soule said there is a chance the county will pursue an ongoing artificial recharge project if it is shown to work effectively.
A likely example of how that would be instituted is similar to Chadwick’s suggestion---take surplus water, store it and use for recharge when it’s dry.
Sequim Public Works director Jim Bay is negotiating details of a city-run artificial recharge experiment using its reuse water, reclaimed from treating wastewater. Some of the reuse water is applied as irrigation across the city already, while large amounts of water continue to be channeled out to the bay. Bay said he hopes the grant-funded project will begin as soon as this year.