The Kennewick Irrigation District is asking customers to be prudent about their water use as it faces the prospect of curtailed water supplies after a disappointing water report Thursday.
April’s warm, dry weather has reduced the Yakima Basin’s water supply forecast to 85 percent for junior water rights holders, the Bureau of Reclamation announced.
KID said it will not implement water restrictions for the time being. Specific deliveries will not be determined until later in the year when reservoir storage begins to decline.
The irrigation district advises customers to plant low-water vegetation, replace lawn grass with xeriscaping, reduce watering times to three times a week for no longer than 30 minutes each time, and to use high efficiency devices — such as micro spray and drip line irrigation systems — that reduce over watering.
It will update its water supply status on its Facebook page.
Despite the depleted snowpack, growers aren’t too worried yet.
“That’s just a 15-percent dip off 100,” said Ric Valicoff, board president for the Roza Irrigation District. “I think we’ll be OK.”
Senior water rights holders are still expected to have 100 percent of their supply.
Reclamation’s forecast is based on flows, precipitation, snowpack and reservoir storage as of May 1, along with estimates of future precipitation and river flows.
Though local growers were relieved to see high snowpack levels this winter, they remained cautious of what a warm spring could do.
“It does serve as a good reminder — even a lot of snow in the low elevation can go away before it’s needed,” said Scott Revell, manager of the Roza Irrigation District. “We had a very extra-dry, extra-warm April, so it’s changed things. We’re tracking it very closely.”
The supply forecast affects 72,000 acres in the Roza district, along with 59,000 in the Kittitas Reclamation District and “about half” of the 136,000-acre Wapato district, Revell said.
At this point, it doesn’t appear likely that the Yakima Basin will experience another drought like in 2015. But the irrigation districts are wary of what May will bring.
The 85 percent supply forecast is based on 100 percent of the average precipitation from now on, Revell said. So if May only gets 50 percent of its normal precipitation, that figure drops to 76 percent water supply for junior rights holders.
“Last year we had a couple-month period in the spring with almost no precipitation, so if that were to repeat at this point, there would be impacts,” Revell said. “But I don’t think it would be nearly as bad as last year.”
The Roza district hasn’t enacted any restrictions on its water supply yet, but that may happen later in the year, he said.
Valicoff said the 85 percent supply is about the same as what’s actually delivered in a good water year anyway, given inefficiencies in the system.
“If there is an issue, we’ll manage it properly mid-late summer and back off a little bit and be just fine,” he said. “We’re pretty good at keeping track of it.”
Revell said they don’t consider shutdowns until the supply forecast dips below 60 percent. Waiting to see how things go before resorting to shutdowns or other measures is a delicate balancing act.
“The farther you get in the season, the harder it is to implement those,” he said.
On the plus side, the system is “incrementally more efficient this year than last year,” Revell said, after sealing seven or eight miles of canal this spring to avoid losing water.
The crops that would be most affected if the water supply keeps dropping are the ones that need water late in the season — wine grapes, juice grapes, apples, hops. Those growers also need to water the soil after harvest to prepare for the next growing season.
For now, everyone’s hoping for some mountain rain and cooler weather.
“We’re watching it closely,” Revell said.