Water Levels Affect Inchelium-Gifford Ferry, Cutting Off Rural L - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Water Levels Affect Inchelium-Gifford Ferry, Cutting Off Rural Lifeline

Posted: Updated:
STEVENS COUNTY, Wash. - STEVENS COUNTY, Wash – People who live in the rural towns near Inchelium and Gifford describe the ferry that connects the two communities as a “lifeline.”  But every now and then, that lifeline is cut off when water levels are too low.

When that happens, schoolchildren are bussed the 70 mile detour up to the nearest bridge and over, tourists can’t easily reach marinas and boats, grocery deliveries are altered, fish raised to mitigate the loss of salmon are endangered, and patients have a hard time reaching the community health care clinic.

So why is the ferry sometimes forced to stop operations?  To say it’s a complicated issue may be an oversimplification; there are several state and federal agencies who have input on the water levels and ferry operations for various reasons, including the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bonneville Power Administration and the Colville Tribe, for instance.

The water in Lake Roosevelt is generally regulated between elevations of 1290 and 1208 feet, depending on the needs of the Columbia River system.  However, the Inchelium-Gifford Ferry can only operate when the water is at least 1232 feet because of the ramp system and slope of the banks. 

At stake?  Not only the ferry, but also flood control, fish flow, power production, even barging and ship traffic in the lower Columbia.  A Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson told KHQ Lake Roosevelt is the largest storage reservoir on the Columbia River in the United States, affecting water levels at Grand Coulee Dam.  So to prevent flooding at Grand Coulee in a year where this is a lot of snowpack runoff, the water must be held back at Lake Roosevelt.

However, it is not low enough to stop ferry service every year – that all depends on the snowpack.  In early May, ferry service was stopped for a few days due to a combination of low water levels and a Coast Guard inspection on the ferry.  KHQ’s Kelsey Watts checked the numbers and found that prior to that, the last time ferry service was impacted by low water levels was for a week in April 2012.  Before that, it was down for 39 days in the spring of 2011, according to data provided by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Indian Affairs said a study had to been done to explore the possibility of building a bridge in place of the ferry, but it was found to be too expensive.

As for extending the ferry ramps to allow for service in lower water, the spokesperson said the ramps on the Gifford side were recently renovated with stimulus funds, but extending them even more is problematic due to the slope of the ground and environmental impacts.

While there’s certainly no easy fix, it is clear that when the ferry service is shut off, there is a tremendous impact on the nearby communities as people are forced to make an hour and a half drive in place of a six-minute ferry ride.
  • Top Stories from KHQTop StoriesMore>>

  • Suspected gunman manages to elude police after hospital lockdown

    Suspected gunman manages to elude police after hospital lockdown

    Saturday, August 30 2014 3:38 PM EDT2014-08-30 19:38:50 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash.- A suspected gunman managed to elude police Friday night after a chase that took officers from the Rite Aid on N. Division to Holy Family Hospital on E. Rowan. It all started around 7:30pm Friday night, when police say a man was seen trying to steal items from the Rite Aid.More >>
    SPOKANE, Wash.- A suspected gunman managed to elude police Friday night after a chase that took officers from the Rite Aid on N. Division to Holy Family Hospital on E. Rowan. It all started around 7:30pm Friday night, when police say a man was seen trying to steal items from the Rite Aid.More >>
  • 2-year-old hit by car, hospitalized

    2-year-old hit by car, hospitalized

    Saturday, August 30 2014 1:45 PM EDT2014-08-30 17:45:12 GMT
    KAMIAH, Idaho - Idaho State Police arrested a 38-year-old woman for driving intoxicated and hitting a 2-year-old with her car in the town of Kamiah Friday night. Police responded to the crash scene at 9:21. ISP said Sarkisian G. Farnham was driving north on Hill Street near the Kamiah High School. More >>
    KAMIAH, Idaho - Idaho State Police arrested a 38-year-old woman for driving intoxicated and hitting a 2-year-old with her car in the town of Kamiah Friday night. Police responded to the crash scene at 9:21. ISP said Sarkisian G. Farnham was driving north on Hill Street near the Kamiah High School. More >>
  • Fire damages South Hill home

    Fire damages South Hill home

    Saturday, August 30 2014 11:30 AM EDT2014-08-30 15:30:10 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Three people and a family dog managed to escape a fire that burned the outside of a home on the South Hill early Friday morning. Firefighters responded to the two-and-a-half story home on South Lincoln at 3:30. They arrived to find flames and fire visible on the outside of the house. One firefighters slipped and injured his shoulder.More >>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Three people and a family dog managed to escape a fire that burned the outside of a home on the South Hill early Friday morning. Firefighters responded to the two-and-a-half story home on South Lincoln at 3:30. They arrived to find flames and fire visible on the outside of the house. One firefighters slipped and injured his shoulder.More >>
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KHQ. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.