District facing myriad challenges head-on

BY CHARLES FREEMAN SECRETARY-MANAGER KENNEWICK IRRIGATION DISTRICT March 28, 2010 

Kennewick Irrigation District has been quietly planning for the future as we make organizational changes to place the district in the most favorable position to make it more successful over the next 50 years than it was for the first 50.

As the new secretary/manager who has managed cities in Oregon and Washington, I'm familiar with long-range planning and successfully managing organizations going through change.

KID is going through a similar reality as cities sometimes experience: high service expectations, aging infrastructure, conservation mandates and diminished state and federal funding.

The Endangered Species Act adds an additional dimension that must be included in planning efforts. KID will continue building on our community outreach efforts and continue to communicate with our rate payers on all aspects of the district's business.

KID has more than 21,000 customers who receive their water through a maze of canals and pipes. The water delivered is actually return flow water. This means KID delivers water that others upstream of the Prosser Dam have already used at least once.

As these upstream users become more efficient in their water use, KID faces challenges of meeting what our customers have come to expect, with less.

In order to address this reality, KID conducted a comprehensive Water Conservation Plan. The plan is estimated to cost $60 million. The district has been participating in long-term water supply solutions in the Yakima Basin.

Once the conservation plan was complete, the board of directors worked to determine the feasibility of projects identified in the plan. These planning documents are important because without them, no funding agency will consider KID's projects.

In addition to these projects, KID -- like other utility companies or cities -- has an aged infrastructure buried under our streets and in our yards that is nearing the end of its service life.

KID has more than 300 miles of buried pipe and planning is under way to address the replacement of old networks. In order to have a high degree of success, the board of directors will soon select a consultant to review the plan and recommend a course of action on how to fund what is likely to be a multimillion-dollar endeavor spread out over many years.

In addition to upstream water efficiencies that will restrict the district's water supply, drought planning is also important because the district's 1905 Yakima River water right is actually a junior water right, and droughts in the Yakima Basin are forecast to occur more frequently and be more severe in the decades ahead.

Current forecasts reflect a total precipitation in the Yakima Basin of 81 percent of average because of the ongoing El Nio.

The 2010 water year is shaping up to be similar to 1987 and 1963, and pro-rationing is very likely, which means KID may not receive its full water supply.

As a result, KID has begun taking steps to mitigate the potential impacts of 2010 being a water short year. The lessons learned from the droughts in 2001 and 2005 are being used to get the most out of this year's water supply.

Finally, recent events at KID mark a new day. As the new secretary/manager, I want the public to know there is a zero tolerance for using public resources for personal gain by any staff member at KID.

Staff will be held to a higher standard. Staff training in ethics, diversity and leadership will continue. The district's goal is to perform exceptionally and professionally at all times in the services we deliver.

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