Roza Irrigation District is trying to lease water to help its customers better survive the Yakima Basin drought.
Roza’s board unanimously approved Monday leasing water for $500 per acre from willing property owners within the neighboring Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District. The move could cost at least $1.2 million.
Some Yakima Basin water users such as the Roza and Kennewick irrigation districts may only get 54 percent of their water supply, according to a mid-April forecast released by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Yakima Basin and some other areas last month, because of limited mountain snowpacks. That declaration has been extended to cover nearly half of the state.
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Roza’s water rights can be limited in a drought year. Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District does have some water rights that can be limited by the government, but about two-thirds of its water rights are senior and can’t be reduced.
Many Roza farmers have perennial crops such as grapes, hops and tree fruit, while more Sunnyside Valley farmers have row crops, said Scott Revell, Roza’s manager. Row crop farmers may be more willing to lease their water than those with perennial crops.
The Sunnyside Valley board would need to approve the lease of any water from its customers to Roza. That has not happened yet.
Officials hope to find at least 5,000 acre-feet of water that Roza can lease for its customers, Revell said. Roza did lease water during the 2001 and 2005 droughts.
Roza may need to lease water from about 2,380 acres to reach the 5,000 acre-feet goal, Revell said. That assumes Sunnyside Valley farmers are getting about 2.1 acre feet per acre of their 3 acre feet per acre allotment. That would lead to a cost of $1.2 million.
Irrigation district officials hope some of the cost to lease water will be covered by the state. During previous droughts, the state covered half the cost and the district covered the other half, Revell said.
The state Department of Ecology has asked the state Legislature for $9 million in drought response money. Of that, $4 million would be for the Yakima Basin, including payments for temporary water transfers.
Roza does have $3.5 million in a drought savings fund. But there is some concern about what spending some of that money will mean for next year.
This year is not as bad as it could have been because the reservoirs were completely full, which is not usual. The Bureau of Reclamation is using the stored reservoir water to meet the needs of farmers, fish, residents and other Yakima Basin water users this year. If that stored water is not replenished and the state sees another year of low snowpack, the resulting drought could be much worse.
The five reservoirs serving the Yakima Basin can’t store enough water to meet all needs. The basin depends on snow to recharge them.
Roza officials did discuss the idea of a $28 an acre assessment to replenish the drought fund. That could bring in about $2 million. It’s not something that appeals to anyone, least of all farmers, Revell said. But it could become necessary.
“We’ve only got the water we’ve got to work with,” Revell said. “The decisions are usually a series of tradeoffs.”
Farmers themselves already are making tradeoffs. Some are deciding to sacrifice part of their orchard or hops yard so they can use what water they can get on the rest of their crop, he said.
Roza officials also encourage farmers to work together. Some may be able to lease water from others within the district. The district’s office has a running list of available water and is working to get that list online later this week to better facilitate leases.
The board did not make a decision about whether there would be a spring shutdown of the irrigation system to save water for the peak demand months of June through August. A 20-day shutdown could save 14,000 acre-feet of water for later in the year.
Some dairy, mint and alfalfa growers have told irrigation district officials that they do not want a mid-season shutdown this spring, Revell said. But some apple and juice and wine grape farmers have requested a shutdown occur in spring if it is going to happen at all.
Roza officials are waiting to see how much water Sunnyside Valley farmers are willing to put up for lease and for the next water supply estimate from the Bureau of Reclamation, Revell said. That estimate is expected May 4, and the board has a 9 a.m. meeting May 5.
Water supply predictions have been declining each month. So far, the outlook continues to look glum. However, it’s possible the Cascade Mountains could see some rain and snow this week.
So far, irrigation districts are expecting to receive more water than they did during the 2001 and 2005 droughts. Roza was cut down to 37 percent of its normal supply in 2005.
However, the Bureau of Reclamation had to start using stored reservoir water to supplement natural flows about six weeks earlier this year than compared to the previous droughts.
That means an earlier start to water cutbacks. And it makes managing the drought more complicated, because there is a longer period that the limited water has to be spread to cover, Revell said.
Many variables are in play that will affect how much water actually is available, including the weather during the next few months.
Currently, Roza’s canals are as low as they can go and still operate. The system is running at about 395 cubic feet per second, creating some problems with intake pumps, Revell said.
So 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.
Irrigation district employees are trying to minimize the amount of water spilled at the end of the open canal system. The water master has set the canal to run at a specific delivery amount and then is adjusting deliveries to use up all the water, Revell said.
Roza officials plan to continue updating the irrigation district’s website to give farmers as much up to date information as is available. About 35 growers attended Roza’s Monday special board meeting.