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Washington farmers urged to contact wildlife officials before turning off irrigation systems to help save fish

Farmers pump water from streams through irrigation canals and fish can also end up in those canals. When the irrigation season is over, fish are often left stranded.

SEATTLE — Editor's note: The above video is a story previously aired on KING 5 about how drought affects irrigation and fish habitat. 

Before farmers and other irrigators shut down their irrigation systems this year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says to call them to ensure fish are not left stranded. 

Farmers divert or pump water from streams through irrigations canals to water crops and livestock, but fish also end up in those canals. Experts said when the irrigation system is shut off, fish often end up stranded in the empty canals. 

That's why the WDFW is asking people who use this type of irrigation system to contact them two to four weeks before shutting it down. The WDFW will send staff out to rescue any fish stuck in the canals and return them to the stream. 

RELATED: Skagit County farmers challenged by drought, salmon protections

“We are available to help people shut down their irrigation systems in a way that protects fish,” said Danny Didricksen, WDFW fish screening manager. “We work with diking districts, irrigation districts, and individual farmers to rescue trapped fish and return them to their stream. We hope everyone who uses irrigation systems will take advantage of this free service.”

Besides contacting WDFW for help, experts also recommend irrigators slowly decrease diversion flows over several days to urge fish to migrate out of the irrigation system and back to the stream on their own. 

“We recommend irrigators leave a minimum flow of 50 inches (1 cubic foot per second) in their ditch to give us time to relocate any stranded fish,” Didricksen said.

People can learn more about irrigation systems and ways to help protect fish on the WDFW website.

RELATED: Low Washington rivers could impact drinking water and fish survival