Business

KID testing new irrigation system for grape-growing land on Red Mountain

Kennewick Irrigation District worked out a few of the bugs in the new system to bring Yakima River water to prime wine grape growing land on Red Mountain near Benton City.

But KID officials plan on more testing for the system before the irrigation season ends this year.

Part of the $18.5 million project remains under construction. The river intake structure and the booster pump station at the intermediate reservoir are still being worked on, said Jason McShane, KID engineering and operations manager.

The pumps at the river intake station near the intersection of Highway 224 and Demoss Road will pump the water to the first of two reservoirs, McShane said. The pumps at that intermediate reservoir will send the water needed farther up the mountain to the second reservoir.

The 90,000 feet of water lines needed to bring the river water from the intake station to properties on Red Mountain were finished earlier this year. It's up to each property owner to connect their own, privately-funded lines to the one being built by KID.

Some property owners already have connected and were able to help KID test the system during August, McShane said. KID employees found some minor manufacturer defects, but no installation errors so far.

Those manufacturer defects are being repaired, he said.

The irrigation system should be fully operational for next year, McShane said. The water will be available to Red Mountain vineyards in April -- the start of next year's irrigation season.

Property owners within the local improvement district, or LID, are paying for the cost of the project, which will irrigate 1,785 acres.

About 400 of the privately owned acres in the improvement district include vineyards being irrigated with groundwater. They will switch to river water once it becomes available.

The promise of irrigation water for next year already is driving expansion in the state's smallest wine grape growing area.

Shaw Vineyards, one of Red Mountain's largest growers, has planted the last 150 acres available at the 300-acre Quintessence Vineyards earlier this year. Duckhorn Vineyards of St. Helena, Calif., also planted its 20-acre estate vineyard.

Aquilini Red Mountain Vineyards, now the largest landowner in the growing area, plans to plant its vineyards in April. British Columbia's Aquilini family bought 670 acres from KID in an auction last year.

Red Mountain has been accruing acclaim based on its ability to produce Cabernet Sauvignon -- the top wine sold worldwide -- ripening the heat-hungry grapes even in the coolest years.

Red Mountain winemakers and growers say having KID water opens up the growing area for expansion. The land is among those with the least rain of any wine-grape growing area in the state, which makes having access to irrigation water critical.

Access to river water provides a level of sustainability that the region lacked when it was completely dependent on well water, growers have said.

The local improvement district should be finalized sometime in November, McShane said. The final assessments are determined once the actual cost of the project is firm.

The $18.5 million estimate is a significant reduction from earlier cost estimates. Previous estimates had priced the project at about $20.2 million.

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-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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