Irrigation Digging Still Waits for Go-Ahead


Published in the Herald-Republic on Friday, March 22, 2002



The Bureau of Reclamation hopes to resume work soon at a Prosser irrigation facility after discovery of a cultural site stalled progress.

In February, a construction crew digging a trench for an electrical conduit came across elk bone, mussel shell and organically rich soil, said Mark DeLeon, an archaeologist with the federal bureau's office in Yakima.

Descendants of the modern Yakama Nation historically used the entire Prosser Falls area for fishing and living.

The bureau's Chandler Canal headworks on the Yakima River serves the Kennewick Irrigation District. The electrical conduit stretches between there and a nearby power plant run by the agency. The wiring is part of automating the headworks gate.

The bureau crew should have checked to see whether the trench qualified for further environmental and cultural review, DeLeon said. But workers thought that review had already been completed or wasn't needed because the earth there had been previously disturbed, DeLeon said.

He called it the first such inadvertent find during recent construction.

"They did what they were supposed to, which is they stopped when they found something that even looked like a cultural feature," DeLeon said.

Johnson Meninick, manager of the Yakama Nation's cultural resources program, said Tuesday that he had sent a report on the discovery to tribal councilors. They haven't instructed him how to proceed yet.

DeLeon said the bureau hopes to complete the project. He did not foresee excavating the site.

A backhoe went about 8 inches past a 3-foot layer of old fill dirt. The equipment operator stopped immediately once learning that the bone had been struck on Feb. 13.

Two weeks ago, an archaeological team from Eastern Washington University conducted a cursory examination of the site.

Excavation of the bone probably would have happened anyway if the cultural assessment had been completed appropriately, DeLeon said.

The existing fill should protect the site from further damage once the trench is covered. About 30 feet of ditch still must be dug through bedrock.


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