The Importance of Irrigation

The Importance of Irrigation

Mission Support Alliance archaeologist Tom Marceau at Hanford Site

Hanford Irrigation Canal

The Allard Pump House at Hanford

Allard Pump House

A ceramic irrigation pipe on the Hanford Site today

Irrigation Evolution

 Asparagus planting at Ballygreen farm, White Bluffs, 1911. Photo courtesy of Our Hanford History.

Digging Ditches

  • Hanford Irrigation Canal

    Hanford Irrigation Canal

    Mission Support Alliance archaeologist Tom Marceau explains how the Hanford Irrigation Canal helped farmers develop the Priest Rapids Valley.

    Tom Marceau: Here we are standing at the entrance to the Hanford Irrigation Canal. You will see from here, it flows out into a cement line, the irrigation system. It goes for about thirty, thirty-six miles. There are eight laterals, named A through H, that serviced some of the communities. Then off of those laterals are individual lines leading to the each of the farmsteads, so that the farmers had their own individual water supply line coming off the feeder line or off the main canal.

    This system was very effective and brought about the real key to agriculture here in the Priest Rapids Valley. They tried dry wheat farming, which did not work here as well as it worked up in the Horse Heaven Hills. In fact, in the Horse Heaven Hills, dry wheat farming is still practiced today. But it was not until they actually brought water and irrigated the fields down here that commercial farming became a success along the Columbia River and the Priest Rapids Valley.

  • Allard Pump House

    Allard Pump House

    Mission Support Alliance archaeologist Tom Marceau explains the significance of the Allard Pump House, which was the key to agricultural production on the Hanford site before the Manhattan Project.

    Tom Marceau: Standing in front of the Hanford Irrigation and Power Company, commonly known as the Allard Pump House. It was the source of the origins for the water that fed the Hanford Irrigation Canal, which was really the key to agricultural production on the Hanford site.

    Almost all of the farmsteads on the Hanford site are what used to be called the Priest Rapids Valley received their water from the Hanford Irrigation Project. Here, this pump house supplied water for about a 36-mile pipeline, open irrigation trench that brought water to several hundred customers. Now, this was not the first attempt to bring water. There were actually three companies, two of which went bankrupt trying to supply water to the farmers to irrigate their fields.

    The third company finally figured out that one of the reasons that they were unsuccessful in supplying water was that the desert was reclaiming the water as it was flowing through the open trench. Once they lined the trench with Portland cement, water did not leave the irrigation canal. It made it to the farm fields. This company managed to prosper until the beginning of the Hanford site construction in 1943, when all of the homesteaders were required to leave so the Hanford site could be constructed for the Manhattan Project.

  • Irrigation Evolution

    Irrigation Evolution

    Mission Support Alliance archaeologist Tom Marceau describes pre-war irrigation farming on the Hanford Site, focusing on an exposed ceramic irrigation pipe.

    Tom Marceau: There is an evolution in irrigation farming here on the Hanford site. What we are looking at here is one of the later stages of irrigation. We have ceramic irrigation pipe here. You notice that periodically or all the way down the line, you have holes. Well, those holes are where the water came out from the pipe. It filled in the rails. You can see that one of the things about desert environments is that archeologically, they maintain the scars on the earth that man puts on them. You can walk down this line. You can still see all of the irrigation paths and all of the rail lines where the crops were actually planted as you walk down this line.

    Like I said, this is one of the later stages. Irrigation started off with wood-staged pipe wrapped in steel. That is one of the more common things that you see from the pre-Hanford era. You see this as the later stages. Eventually, you also see concrete pipe, and actually some steel pipe towards the very end, just before Hanford was taken over for the war effort.

    One of the interesting things about this pipe is that this pipe is exposed. More often than not, these irrigation pipes were covered over with mounds of dirt so that they were not visible. What you see in the landscape is the mound where this pipe is buried.

  • Digging Ditches

    Digging Ditches

    Mission Support Alliance archaeologist Tom Marceau explains the challenges farmers on the west side of Hanford encountered with supplying water for their crops.

    Tom Marceau: The big Hanford Irrigation Canal supplied water for the majority of the agricultural locations here on Hanford. But here on the west side, the farmers had to take water out of the river on their own. There was no commercial irrigation district. They had to either do things by taking water directly out of the river with pumps, or they had to dig their own wells and then pump the water from the well to the fields.

    This is a different type of agricultural setting. We are talking here about the guys who were not part of the commercial irrigation district. This was all really hard labor, to get the water out and put it on the crops.


Quick Fact:
Water was the key to the success of Hanford's prewar agricultural community, providing life for crops from apples to alfalfa.