A worsening Yakima Basin drought means Kennewick Irrigation District customers will have to limit water use starting May 31.
KID’s board of directors unanimously approved a mandatory, enforced watering schedule for customers on Tuesday.
The district already was asking customers to limit watering to two times a week, for 30 minutes at a time per zone. Customers did respond and reduced water use, said Jason McShane, engineering and operations manager.
But that wasn’t enough to get through the drought. The district now plans to enforce the watering schedule, which will still allow customers to water twice a week for 30 minutes at a time per zone.
The scheduled days and time ranges of when customers can water is based on the last number in a property’s address. Customers are encouraged to move to the schedule as soon as possible, but enforcement won’t begin until May 31.
The district will warn homeowners who ignore the schedule the first two times. But using water off schedule a third time will cost $100 and result in a locked irrigation valve for seven days. A fourth time will mean another $100 penalty and water locked off for the remainder of the irrigation season.
Tampering with a locked valve and removing the lock will result in a $500 fine that must be paid before any water service will return.
Anyone who removes the lock a second time will have their irrigation service capped for the remainder of the season, and district officials will pass the case to the county prosecutor for tampering with a public facility.
The charges can be appealed during the annual Board of Equalization, and anyone who has their service locked or capped can appeal to KID’s board of directors.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation now expects Yakima River water users like the Kennewick and Roza irrigation districts only will receive about 44 percent of their normal water supply. The federal agency issued a new water supply estimate Tuesday.
KID officials have done what they can to add to the water supply and will continue to look for ways to do that, McShane said. But that is really up to Mother Nature.
“There is only so much water coming out of the river,” he said.
Officials hope distributing water equally through the mandated schedule will keep water supplies more stable than what customers otherwise could expect with the drought.
It’s the first time KID has taken this approach to try to manage water during a drought year. It’s been a decade since the last Yakima Basin drought.
One of the biggest complaints the district received during the 2005 drought was a lack of enforcement on the mandated water schedule, McShane said. Customers who stuck to the schedule were frustrated when others decided to water on their day.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency last week. Water rationing started for some Yakima Basin water users last month, but planning for the impending drought started earlier this year when winter failed to bring the snow needed to supplement the natural river flows during the summer.
The basin lacks enough reservoir storage for all of the irrigation, fish, municipal and other needs. The rain last week helped a bit because it did add some water to the mountain reservoirs, but KID doesn’t have the ability to store water in its own system. What is really needed is mountain snow, and if not snow, then rain.
KID officials are trying to prepare for a drop in the Yakima River that could be seen in the next few weeks. Shortages are expected as soon as June 1.
“We are anxious to help people help themselves through this drought,” McShane said.
Officials anticipate water supplies will reach 2005 drought levels, McShane said. The district was able to deliver about 68 percent of its normal water during 2005. It benefits from return flows and so is able to receive more water during drought years than other irrigation districts with water rights that can be limited.
The problem was that the amount of water available during a day in July that year was down to 160 cubic feet per second, instead of the more normal 285, he said. One-hundred cubic feet per second is about 45,000 gallons per minute.
Customers should not expect to keep green, lush lawns this year, McShane said. But the watering schedule will help them maintain what they have and keep their lawns from dying.
Customers should try to avoid watering during the peak demand times when possible. Right now, the district sees the most water use between 5:30 and 8 a.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., McShane said.
Officials expect the drought could worsen. If it does, KID may move to what is considered a “level two” drought response. Then, homeowners can use a hose to water perennial shrubs and plants but will not be able to use sprinkler systems to water lawns.
KID has been at a “level four” response involving suggested scheduling. Level three, the mandated scheduling, is what the district is moving to on May 31.
Farm use will be prioritized over water for homeowners in a level one drought. Farmers also are seeing their water limited now and will see the water limited more if the drought worsens.
McShane said officials do not anticipate hitting that highest level this year. He’s hopeful the mandating schedule will help keep water available to customers.
The mandatory water schedule was not on KID’s agenda for the meeting. Jason Mercier, Washington Policy Center’s government reform director, expressed some frustration that it was not on the agenda, although he said KID does have the right to make decisions that aren’t on the agenda.
“The lack of transparency and opportunity for public comment on such a controversial decision is very troubling from a good government perspective,” he said. “This is especially true with KID noting that in the history of the district it has never imposed such severe restrictions.”
As a local resident, he would have wanted to ask the board to consider alternative watering schedule and different incentives instead of a fine and water cutoff.
KID received new information from the Bureau of Reclamation Monday on water supply expectations, which caused KID to move up consideration of mandatory scheduling, McShane said. It was a regularly scheduled meeting, so items can be added.
KID officials have been discussing the idea of mandatory scheduling with residents during homeowner’s association meetings during the last few months, he said.
For more information about drought response, go to www.kid.org.