Too much water -- not too little -- in the Columbia River is why 600 to 700 homeowners at Horn Rapids in north Richland have been experiencing a drought for almost two weeks.
High water related to flow fluctuations at Priest River Dam in Grant County caused electric pumps at Horn Rapids to be removed, said Pete Rogalsky, public works director for Richland.
Homeowners who have been using Richland's treated water to keep their landscaping green can expect to see irrigation water restored within a week, Rogalsky said.
The water outage began June 27 when a commercial farming operation near Horn Rapids, Greenridge Farms of Pasco, pulled the pumps due to rising water coming downstream from releases at Priest Rapids Dam.
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Rogalsky said a maintenance contract at the dam required the releases.
But the sudden surges of water into the river occurred without giving enough time to provide notice for people downstream.
"It dramatically altered the flow cycle, which prompted the commercial farmer to remove the electrical pumps quickly," Rogalsky explained.
The situation, with lots of water in the river and no pumps to pull it out for irrigation, caught Horn Rapids residents and the city by surprise, Rogalsky said.
The farmer, who has total responsibility for the pumps and who provides water under contract to Richland, hurried to install a temporary pumping station, powered by diesel engines, but that took two days.
Rogalsky said several more days were needed to solve mechanical issues before irrigation water began flowing.
But Horn Rapids residents still faced the man-made drought because the farming operation, by contract, has first rights to the water.
"The farm has priority, and in a dire emergency he could cut us off completely," Rogalsky said.
Even worse, the diesel-powered pumping station didn't produce enough to satisfy ag and residential needs, which meant Horn Rapids residents were still high and dry, Rogalsky said.
"This is the first time in a long time this has happened, and a lot of new people have moved into Horn Rapids in recent years," Rogalsky said.
Residents were initially advised of the crisis in late June, and notices were hand-delivered to each property June 29.
Rogalsky also emailed Horn Rapids property owners Tuesday to explain the problem and assure that normal operations with reinstalled pumps will occur next week.
Bernal Femreite, a Horn Rapids resident for six years, said the city seemed to be slow to respond to the crisis.
"The city was very cavalier about the whole thing," Femreite said, who claims the city didn't get moving until a representative from the Horn Rapids Homeowners Association called Richland Mayor John Fox.
Femreite said he has counted about 15 dead or dying trees in his neighborhood.
"It's ironic that we rely on the city for services, but the farmer can shut off the water whenever he wants," he said.
Rogalsky told the Herald that the maintenance work upstream on the Yakima is concluding, and the water shortage will end soon.
Meanwhile, Horn Rapids residents who have been abiding with restrictions to water by zones and on alternate days, can continue to use city water for their yards without limit, Rogalsky said.
The Horn Rapids Golf Course has been able to escape most of the effects of the drought-like conditions because it irrigates with pond water, which does not draw down the community's pressurized irrigation system.
Also, Richland has installed a metered connection on a city hydrant at Horn Rapids so the landscape maintenance contractor can hand-water common areas that have trees and shrubs, Rogalsky said.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org