PROSSER - Eight months after ground was broken on the Sunnyside Canal Improvement Project's re-regulating reservoir, a handful of Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District (SVID) employees stood at the rim of the reservoir Monday, located outside of Prosser, and watched as the first drops of irrigation water flowed into what looked like an empty, rocky lake bed.
The first gush of water into the reservoir signifies a significant step for SVID, which has spent nearly a decade trying to complete the project.
Don Schramm with SVID and Richard Haapala with CH2M-Hill, Inc., one of the firms that helped design the reservoir, explained that the re-regulating reservoir will make it possible to better manage the water that runs through the 65-mile canal that winds its way through the valley.
Both Schramm and Haapala explained that the canal used to spill irrigation water from the canal back into the Yakima River above Prosser when the irrigation canal was running above capacity. The reservoir will change that. Schramm said now when the canal is operating over capacity instead of the water spilling back into the river, it will be spilled into the reservoir where it will be stored. The water stored in the reservoir will then be pumped back into the canal for use when canal flows are down.
Schramm said the reservoir, which holds 300 acre feet of water, will be put to use this irrigation season.
"It's helping us save water in this water short year," Schramm said.
But the reservoir is just a small part of a large project that includes the construction of two more re-regulating reservoirs, as well as the replacement of 30 existing check drop structures with fully automated, electrically powered gates.
Schramm said the next reservoir is expected to be constructed during winter 2007, with the additional storage capacity being made available for the 2008 season.
Schramm and Haapala explained that all of the changes are meant to make the irrigation system more efficient and make water management easier.
Haapala said the way the system currently works water is simply sent down the canal during irrigation season with few changes being made at the manually operated check drop structures. That means that at times too much water is flowing down the canal and at other times not enough water is making its way through the system.
According to Haapala, the 30 automated gates will mean that water can be more easily managed without having to send people out to manually change flows. He noted that this will make getting those changes done easier and more efficient. He added that the new reservoirs also play a big part in helping regulate the water in the canal system.
Haapala said the reservoirs are being placed at strategic locations along the canal, giving SVID several points where it can regulate the flow of the canal system by moving water into and out of the reservoir.
The cost of the entire project, which includes the three reservoirs, as well as the installation of 30 automated gates, is estimated at $32.6 million over a nine-year period. The cost is being split by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Sunnyside Division Board of Control. The Bureau of Reclamation is paying for 65 percent of the project, while the remaining costs are being evenly split by DOE and the Sunnyside Division Board of Control.