The dreaded Yakima Basin drought has arrived.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation has already started using stored reservoir water to supplement natural flows. And that triggers the start of cuts to how much water is available in the Yakima Basin.
The Kennewick and Roza irrigation districts and other water users may only get 54 percent of their water supply, according to a mid-month forecast released by the Bureau of Reclamation.
At the beginning of April, they were expected to get about 60 percent of their normal water this year.
“If May is wet, it could get better, but we have to plan for it to be worse,” said Scott Revell, Roza Irrigation District manager.
Roza already has cut back the amount of water available to farmers and other users. Instead of getting 7.5 gallons per minute per acre, farmers and others are able to get about 1.8 gallons per minute per acre, Revell said.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Yakima Basin and some other areas last month, due to limited mountain snowpacks. That declaration has been extended to cover nearly half of the state.
The Columbia Irrigation District and other users with senior water rights issued before 1905 will get their full water amount, because those rights can’t be limited by the state or federal government.
Kennewick Irrigation District’s water rights are senior but proratable, meaning its water will be reduced based on availability. Roza’s water rights can be limited. Benton and Sunnyside Valley irrigation districts have some water the government can’t limit, but they also have some water that can be cut back in a drought year.
It’s been difficult for Roza to plan how to respond to the drought because water supply predictions have been hovering around 60 percent or more, Revell said. Dropping down to less than 50 percent would force the district to consider mid-season shutdowns or leasing water. The district’s board may have a special meeting next week to discuss drought response.
Before turning on water this spring, Roza employees installed wooden check boards in the open canal system that raise the pool levels and increase water pressure up the canal from the boards. That helps the system run better with less water, Revell said.
Kennewick Irrigation District notified the state last week that it will use some water that is typically held in trust because of the drought this year, said Seth Defoe, the district’s planning manager.
KID urges homeowners to only water a couple of times a week, for 30 minutes at a time. Residential customers also should water when their neighbors aren’t to keep pressure up in the system, Defoe said.
Officials aren’t sure yet how much less water KID will have. The district benefits from return flows from other irrigation districts and water users upstream, and so tends to get more than other rationed water users, Defoe said.
When KID did the recent project to bring Yakima River water to Red Mountain, some of the water set aside to help deliver Red Mountain’s water was not needed. That water was put in trust to bolster in-stream flows during full water years, but can be used during a drought year after giving the state 30-day notice.
There also is some water that has been set aside to add to in-stream flows for fish based on a 1994 federal law, but can be used during a drought year, Defoe said. That federal law specified that the funded conservation efforts can’t cause KID more harm during a drought year than what the district would have suffered before the conservation efforts.
KID is working with Bureau of Reclamation now to determine how best to use that water, Defoe said.
Roza Irrigation District customers should check the district’s website at www.roza.org for more information and updates. Kennewick Irrigation District customers can go to KID’s website at http://kid.org/.