KID plans to prioritize farming

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 18, 2014 

Recent snow on the Cascade Mountains has improved the water outlook for this summer, but Kennewick Irrigation District is moving forward with drought planning that puts agricultural needs first.

KID Manager Chuck Freeman told the KID board Tuesday that prioritizing farming needs only makes sense.

KID started out to serve agricultural needs, and farming represents a considerable investment in the community, he said.

Freeman said snowpack levels are now around 80 percent of average because of a recent snowstorm.

KID has senior pro-ratable water rights, which means that if there is a drought, KID could only get a percentage of the district's water allotment, KID officials said.

"We are a little relieved at the snowpack. Things can happen rapidly," said Seth Defoe, KID's planning manager.

The risk of drought has not been eliminated at this point, Defoe said.

The timing of when the snowpack melts is also important, Freeman said. If it melts too soon, it may not help with summer water needs.

More snow is anticipated through 6 a.m. today.

Some of the bigger district investments would be the first to be protected, Defoe said.

Perennial crops such as tree fruit top the priority list, followed by annual crops such as potatoes, according to KID's draft drought plan.

After crops on the priority list are public spaces, including parks, schools, cemeteries and street trees, and then golf courses, according to the draft plan.

Residential trees and lawns are at the bottom of the priority list, but Defoe said that even with reduced water, homeowners would be able to keep trees and lawns alive.

Residential lawns are important, but someone's livelihood is not based on it, Freeman said.

KID Board President Kirk Rathbun said the priority order for water makes sense.

This is not the year to put in new lawns or plant new trees, Defoe said. KID customers should consider waiting until water is more plentiful for those kinds of projects.

KID plans to hold workshops at Home Depot and Lowe's to teach homeowners how to better use irrigation water.

The KID board likely will vote on the drought plan at its next meeting March 4.

Also Tuesday, the KID board unanimously approved changing Freeman's deferred compensation program for retirement.

The change means Freeman can receive a 1.5-to-1 employer-employee match on deferred compensation contributions up to 7.5 percent of his annual salary. That annual salary is about $131,000.

Colleen Storms, KID treasurer, said before the change, Freeman received a match for up to 2.5 percent of his annual wage. He would need to contribute more from his salary to receive the full benefits of the deferred compensation.

The potential additional expense to KID would be about $6,600 a year, which could be covered by the benefits budget, she said.

"I think Chuck has done a great job," Rathbun said. "We've seen a considerable amount of decreased litigation since he has been here."

Board Vice President Gene Huffman agreed that Freeman has done an excellent job improving KID. "It's quite a turnaround," he said. "I appreciate that."

KID Director Patrick McGuire said in four years, Freeman has helped reduce KID's expenses and increase the efficiency of KID's operations.

w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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