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$23 million pipeline bringing water, potatoes to thousands of acres in the Horse Heavens

New irrigation pipeline for Horse Heaven Hills

See construction of a newly completed 8-mile pipeline from the Columbia River near Paterson that allows the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to irrigate more than 3,000 acres of public land for the first time.
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See construction of a newly completed 8-mile pipeline from the Columbia River near Paterson that allows the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to irrigate more than 3,000 acres of public land for the first time.

A whole lot of water and a whole lot of new crops are headed to Benton County.

Under a deal with the state, Frank Tiegs LLC, a subsidiary of Pasco-based Washington Potato Co., spent nearly $23 million to build an eight-mile pipeline carrying Columbia River water to irrigate fields in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources will announce Tuesday that the project near Paterson began pumping water earlier this month. The project will bring water to 3,100 acres of the 5,000-acre state parcel.

The company, which takes its name from Washington Potato president Frank Tiegs, has a long-term lease that increases the value of the land and preserves a water right that was in danger of expiring.

Under the deal, Frank Tiegs LLC fronted the cost to build the pipeline in exchange for abated rent. The lease expires Dec. 31, 2043.

Critically, it authorizes the company to plant row crops such as potatoes, onions, field corn, sweet corn, timothy hay, peas, carrots, cereal grains and peppers on what has been dryland acreage. Other crops could be added too.

potato field
Under a deal with the state, a Pasco-based potato company built an eight-mile pipeline to irrigate fields in the Horse Heaven Hills with Columbia River water and plant crops such as potatoes, onions and more. File AP

The deal also preserves public hunting and fishing and some other public uses.

Threatened water right

DNR had struggled to find a partner willing to bring water to the property in recent years. It was in danger of losing its water right in 2020 under the state’s use-it-or-lose it rules.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz acknowledged the irony of announcing a project that pumps water the same week Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency.

It would have been irresponsible to let a water right disappear.

“If we don’t use it, we lose it,” she told the Tri-City Herald. “It would have been a breach of fiduciary duty to the school trusts.”

The state values its water right to 13,713 acre-feet/year for 3,453 acres (nearly 4 acre/feet per acre) at nearly $41 million.

The rights were secured in 1977 but only a small portion was put to use elsewhere. A portion was relinquished, DNR said.

DNR first advertised the opportunity more than three years ago, drawing complaints from wheat farmers who said they didn’t receive enough notice.

The 63-page lease spells out in detail the steps Frank Tiegs LLC must take to complete the water line and how, and what, it may grow on the property.

It will develop irrigated row crops on 3,100 acres with nearly 940 set aside for wildlife habitat.

potatoes
A Pasco-based potato company will plant row crops such as potatoes, onions, field corn and more on what has been dryland acreage and irrigate it with Columbia River water. File Tri-City Herald

Increased property value

The deal significantly increases the property’s value commercial value to DNR, which manages state land on behalf of a series of school trusts.

With irrigation in place, the Benton County property will yield roughly $625,000 in annual rent, a fourfold increase over its value as dryland wheat.

Besides paying rent, agricultural tenants pay a leasehold tax. The rate is higher for irrigated land than dry.

As a dryland wheat farm, the property generated about $12,000 per year in leasehold taxes.

As irrigated, land, that will rise to about $80,000. The revenue is distributed to various taxing entities by the Department of Revenue.

Water is drawn at the Columbia Water and Power District’s diversion station at River Mile 166, south of the property.

The pipeline crosses property owned by Ste. Michelle, Glade Creek LLC, Lamb Weston, Horrigan Farms Inc. and Benton County.

Frank Tiegs and Washington Potato, aka Oregon Potato, could not be reached about their plans.

The company has offices in Kennewick and is a key regional player in the vegetable and fruit sector.

In addition to growing, it processes, packs, blends and distributes agricultural products.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.

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