Roza Irrigation District will shut down its canal system starting at 7 a.m. May 11 to conserve water for use later this year.
The Tuesday decision is the latest the irrigation district’s board has made to soften the blow of the Yakima Basin drought.
Roza officials also got the go-ahead needed Tuesday from the neighboring Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District board to try to lease water from Sunnyside Valley farmers.
The mid-season shutdown and leasing water were strategies Roza used to deal with droughts in 2001 and 2005.
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Planning for this year’s drought has been a challenge because the expected supply of water has slowly fallen as late season snow and rain failed to arrive.
Roza, which has water rights that can be limited in a drought year, delivers Yakima River water to about 1,700 different customers on 72,000 acres. Many of the farmers grow multiple crops and quite a few have perennial crops such as orchards, hop yards and vineyards.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Yakima Basin and some other areas in March, because of limited mountain snowpacks. That declaration has been extended to cover nearly half of the state.
While the federal Bureau of Reclamation estimated that some Yakima Basin water users would receive 47 percent of their normal supply on Monday, Roza officials are preparing for the available water to drop even more.
That’s because unless enough rain falls in the Yakima Basin and in the Cascade Mountains during the next month, the 47 percent estimate is expected to continue to fall.
For now, Roza is planning for a 38 percent supply, said Scott Revell, Roza Irrigation District manager.
Shutting down for about 20 days will allow Roza to provide water later into the summer. The goal is to stretch available water supplies to Sept. 30.
Customers in the Benton City area still will have access to water for a few more days next week as the canal system empties, Revell said.
Exactly when Roza will refill the canal system will depend on this month’s weather. If it rains, the shutdown may last longer. If rain is limited or nonexistent, the shutdown may be cut short.
The Roza board will hold a special meeting May 22 to determine when to turn the water back on.
Some cherry farmers asked the board to avoid a shutdown or to shorten one. But other farmers asked for a shutdown so water could be available for more of September.
Mark Tudor, president of Tudor Hills Vineyard of Grandview, told the Roza board that its orchard and vineyards could suffer irreparable damage if irrigation water is unavailable this fall.
“I do believe it will be the most beneficial to all permanent crop growers to implement the shutdown and have water later in the growing season,” he wrote.
Brenton Roy of Oasis Farms of Prosser told the Roza board that his vineyards and orchards would do best with as late of a fall shutdown of the irrigation system as possible.
“Water through the month of September would greatly reduce stress for both plant and company,” he wrote to the board.
Dave Wyckoff of Wyckoff Farms of Grandview told the Roza board his farm’s permanent crops are heavy water users during the hot summer months and need water as late as possible in the fall. He also advocated for the shutdown.
“To reduce water delivery during either of these critical periods would cause substantial crop loss and monetary damage,” he wrote. “We have no alternative way to adequately provide sufficient amount of water during these critical periods for our crops.”
But orchardist Scott Leach told the Roza board he opposed a shutdown because it would be difficult for farmers to catch up once water returns and it limits the decisions he can make as a farmer.
“I would prefer to play the string out and hope we catch a break somewhere along the way,” he wrote.
A number of dairy farmers also asked the board to avoid a shutdown.
Roza’s board spent about an hour Tuesday holding a question and answer session with about 40 farmers who attended the morning meeting.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District’s board agreed to allow Roza to lease water from Sunnyside Valley property owners.
Roza’s board had recently approved leasing water for $500 per acre from willing property owners within the neighboring irrigation district but needed Sunnyside Valley’s board to agree to the plan.
The move could cost Roza at least $1.2 million, although half could be covered by state drought relief funding.
Sunnyside Valley 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
Interested Sunnyside Valley farmers should apply to the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District to be part of the program, Revell said. The deadline is May 18.
The applications and program guidelines also will be available on Roza’s website at www.roza.org.
Roza farmers also have been leasing water from each other, with some who have annual crops allowing farmers with perennial crops to temporarily use their water for this year, Revell said.