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The Water

The Water - The Dungeness RiverThe Dungeness River is one of the steepest rivers in North America. Its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains start at 7,000 feet in Heather Basin, and descend a dramatic 4,000 feet in the first four miles. As the river and its tributaries roar down their channels, they scour the mountainsides.

Around 35 million years ago, the Olympic Mountains rose from the ocean as incredible geological pressures uplifted and crumpled the sea floor. Today, as the river erodes its rocky banks in its descent, it carries sea minerals down to the Sequim Valley. Once at sea level, it slows, dropping part of its mineral load.

The WaterSince the last ice age, the river has changed course many times, depositing rich alluvial soils in its path. In conventional agriculture, minerals are depleted from the soil and are replenished using fertilizers or other amendments. If you use up calcium in your soil for example, you add lime. Thanks to the mineral-rich Dungeness River, farmers in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley get many minerals and trace elements added to their soils as they irrigate.

In an effort to utilize as much of the fertile Sequim prairie as they could, early European settlers constructed the irrigation system we rely on today. The ditch system they constructed in the last century not only brings water to crops, but to a certain degree, it emulates the river as it disperses ancient sea minerals over much of the land, replenishing the soils. Today there are 170 miles of ditches, canals and pipelines still in use.

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Water and Salmon
The last ten miles of the Dungeness River flow through the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, where a rain shadow cast by the Olympic Mountains allows only 16 inches of rain to fall annually. Early European settlers realized that while they had some of the finest alluvial soils in the nation to farm, water was going to be a real problem.

In 1896, the settlers constructed an irrigation outfall where the river leaves the mountains and they began a series of ditches, some of which are about 22 miles long. At one point in the early 20th century, there were 20 separate ditch companies, and no regulation of water usage. In 1987, a severe drought reduced the river to a trickle and salmon had to be captured and trucked upstream. Subsequent measurements revealed that 82% of the river was being diverted for irrigation and it became evident that the good old days of unregulated irrigation were over. Some hard negotiating followed. Irrigators, Washington State, local tribes and environmentalists finally agreed on a minimum flow-60 cubic feet per second (CFS) in the driest times of the year. In 2001, another drought reduced the river to levels that were similar to those in 1987. This time however, irrigators withdrew just 33 percent of the Dungeness's flow, increasing the survival rate of the eight stocks of Pacific salmon that spawn in the Dungeness, two of which are still endangered today. See Department of Ecology, State of Washington for more information.

Salmon SafeNash's Organic Produce is one of a few farms in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley to be certified "Salmon-Safe." Founded in 1995 by Pacific Rivers Council, Salmon-Safe is a nonprofit that works with farmers, vineyards, ranchers, municipalities, campuses, golf courses, contractors and residential developments to protect water quality and salmon habitat. As one of the nation's leading regional eco-labels with more than 60,000 acres of farm and urban lands certified in Oregon, Washington, and California, Salmon-Safe offers a series of peer-reviewed certification programs linking land management practices with the protection of agricultural and urban watersheds. Nash's is proud that our water conservation efforts contribute to protection of the Dungeness River and its precious inhabitants (some of which are endangered) and we work hard to promote efficient and effective water use on our farm.

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