Irrigation District Threatens to Replace Tri-Cities Family Farm with Huge Reservoir | Local

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The four-generation farm owner in Badger Canyon had just one thing to say to the Kennewick Irrigation District this week.

“Please don’t take my farm,” said Robert S. Cox in an emotional plea.

The owner of a 65-acre family farm was among 80 people attending the reunion, many of them angry that the family may lose their land where they grow pumpkins for grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest.

But irrigation officials argue it’s a critical part of a large reservoir project needed to deliver water to 65,000 customers in an era of increasingly uncertain water supplies. .

KID’s board was due to vote on Tuesday to condemn and buy Cox’s land through a prominent domain process.

KID officials said they had been chatting with the family for a year as one of the first steps in the project along the district’s main canal.

The project would be “transformative for the district,” said Charles Freeman, director of KID after the meeting.

The reservoir would store water to increase operational efficiency in normal times and also to provide water to its customers during droughts, such as that of 2015, when the Yakima River flows are low.

The tank could hold up to 4.5 billion gallons and be 30 to 40 feet deep in places, Freeman said.

KID open doors on tank

The public irrigation district has been somewhat silent about the project, as it has focused on buying around 400 acres without pushing up land prices, KID officials said.

Now 123 acres have been purchased and he is in talks to purchase an additional 200 acres.

That leaves the 65 acres at the northwest corner of Badger Road and Badger Canyon Road – land dear to the Cox family.

The board took no action as planned on Tuesday.

Instead, the Board of Trustees hosted an open house from 4pm to 7pm on March 26 at the KID office, 2015 S. Ely St., Kennewick, to answer questions about the project.

KID still wants to buy the land, rather than condemn it, but in any case, the family will be paid, explained Jason McShane, KID’s director of engineering and operations.

The 65 acres are valued at $ 1.34 million and the district has offered nearly $ 1.91 million, he said.

KID said his chosen land at Badger Canyon is the rare site where the reservoir would be at the right height for gravity flow, without the added cost of pumping, and be close to the main channel.

The Coxes said they had already lost land once because of a water project.

Robert S. Cox’s son Clayne said his grandfather bought the land in the 1950s when he lost land to the construction of the John Day Dam on the Columbia River.

“Now they’re taking another place,” said Clayne Cox, who cultivates with his father.

The Robert Cox Farms is known for its pumpkins, although it also rotates wheat, hay, and corn.

Pumpkins are sold at Walmart, Winco and Yokes and can be found in stores from Alaska to Idaho.

Neighbors are worried about the reservoir

KID’s conviction would also take away their house built in 1965 which the family planned to renovate to make it habitable again.

Robert S. Cox’s father and grandmother died there, and Robert S. Cox said that’s where he thought he would end his days as well, his family said.

And Robert and Vickie Cox want to pass the land on to their children, they said.

“Money means nothing to us,” said their daughter Ashley Elliott. “Give us land and we will continue to cultivate. “

Mistaking prime farmland for a reservoir is “just plain wrong,” said Charles Prescott, who lives nearby. Others noted that the water would be used for lawns rather than food.

Britt Marlin, a neighbor for 40 years, has called Cox’s lands some of the most sought after in Badger Canyon.

He is also concerned about what the reservoir will mean to his property.

Neighbors don’t yet know if this will be a huge, fenced-in concrete pool or something “presentable” for the kids to visit and go fishing, he said.

He also asked what it might look like when water is drawn and what that might mean for the value of nearby properties.

The tank will hold 4.5 billion gallons

KID officials said a design has yet to be worked out. They must also work with the county on the possible environmental review.

And they said after the meeting that the water would benefit all members of the district, including the farmers. The district provides water to 12,000 acres of farmland.

The reservoir could hold up to 14,000 acre-feet of water, or about 4.5 billion gallons, Freeman said.

About 500 acre-feet of water, possibly kept in a separate cell, could fluctuate as it is used to optimize daily operations.

But most would be held in reserve for a drought.

“People build reservoirs because the amount of water in a river varies over time,” said KID board chairman Kirk Rathbun.

“During very rainy periods or when the snow in the mountains melts, the water in a river rises and sometimes overflows from its banks,” he said. “By taking advantage of these periods of high flow, water can be stored for later in the summer when river flows are very low.”

KID sources water from the Yakima River Basin, which is unable to meet user demand for all of the districts it supplies.

Drought relief possible

The demand is more than twice the amount of storage available in the Bureau of Reclamation’s mountain reservoirs, including Cle Elum, Kachess, and Keechelus.

The Kennewick Irrigation District depends on its supply for return flows to the Yakima River from upstream diversions, such as seepage into the soil.

As water conservation increases upstream, less return flow returns to the river for KID to claim for its customers.

Climate change is also a concern for the future of the district’s water supply.

The last major drought to affect KID was in 2015, when water was reduced to farms, residential properties and public properties such as schools and parks. Residential users were limited to 30 minutes of water per area on a twice-weekly schedule to water their lawns.

If the city then had the proposed reservoir, the water supply program could have been voluntary instead of mandatory and more water would have been available, including for farmers who did not have water for their own. crops on certain days, Freeman said.

No date has been announced after the open house where the commission will discuss and vote on the land condemnation plan.

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