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Farmers may have to treat their well water

Even with last week's rainfall, the forecast across Washington state still calls for a drought this year.

With a statewide declaration of a drought year already made, permission to use emergency wells on farms has been given, giving a little bit of leeway to those who usually rely solely on irrigation.

Bob Stevens, a soil scientist who works at Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, said the governor's declaration will open up the application period for additional emergency wells to be dug.

Emergency drought wells are deeper than most wells dug for domestic use and tap into a water aquifer high in PH and bicarbonate, said Stevens.

"What that does is it causes the soil to calcify," said Stevens.

He explained that the chemicals found in water from deeper aquifers can cause soil to seal, not allowing water to permeate it, making irrigation ineffective.

Stevens said to get around the calcification process, most farmers who use emergency wells treat their water. He said many farmers opt to add more calcium to the water by injecting it into the water stream. Low levels of sulfuric acid will also rid the soil of the calcification, said Stevens.

Calcification becomes less of a problem for farmers with sandy soil compared to those with silt loam soil, but Stevens said that farmers have also found that mixing water from the farm wells with regular irrigation water doesn't cause as much of the calcification of the soil.

Soil calcification isn't an immediate problem. Stevens said that long-term use of the well water is what they are most concerned about.

For some farmers on Department of Natural Resources land, water treatment is a regular practice.

Stevens explained that a number of sections in every township are given to schools, which benefit by renting the property to farmers.

"Many of these lands are outside the irrigation district," said Stevens. "Those farmers treat all the time."

Stevens said that even at the WSU extension office in Prosser an emergency well is used during drought season.

A concern is that although the aquifer is deep and mainly used during drought season, that it could be overtaxed.

"Hopefully, we'll only have to use those wells every five years or so," he added.

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