YAKIMA – The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking farmers and other irrigators to contact them two to four weeks before shutting down irrigation systems for the season.
Notification allows department staff to rescue fish in irrigation canals and return them to their streams.
In Washington, it is common for people to divert or pump water from streams through irrigation canals to water crops and livestock. Fish also enter these canals and divert back to the stream.
But when the irrigation season ends and the canals empty, Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish species can become stranded.
“We are available to help people shut down their irrigation systems in a way that protects fish,” said Danny Didricksen, department fish screening manager. “We work with diking districts, irrigation districts and individual farmers to rescue trapped fish and return them to their stream. We hope everyone who uses irrigation systems will take advantage of this free service.”
In addition to contacting the department before irrigation is shut down, officials encourage people to decrease diversion flows slowly over several days to urge fish to migrate out of the irrigation system and back to the stream on their own.
“We recommend irrigators leave a minimum flow of 50 inches (one cubic foot per second) in their ditch to give us time to relocate any stranded fish,” Didricksen said.
Help in rescuing fish may be obtained from Didricksen, 509-571-5559, or Ray Gilmour, 509-575-2743.
More information on irrigation diversions and fish protection is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/habitat-recovery/fish-passage/screens.