Benton County may be more brown than normal this summer, but Franklin County is likely to be as green as it gets.
That’s because only a portion of the water used in the Tri-Cities is being affected by the statewide drought emergency.
The Columbia River, which provides drinking water for Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland residents and businesses and irrigation water in Franklin County, is expected to be at near normal levels. There is no mandated rationing of water from the main stem of the Columbia River.
But the Yakima River, which provides irrigation water in Benton County, is being hit by a drought after winter precipitation fell as rain instead of snow. Normally, melting snow fills the river during summer months, but this year the snow isn’t there.
As a result, some Yakima Basin water users are expected to get about 44 percent of normal supply, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
The so-called snowpack drought is an unusual situation, and officials aren’t completely sure what to expect this summer beyond available water being less than demand. The estimated supply of water has continued to drop.
Some Kennewick parks, two Richland schools and Kennewick schools do use Kennewick Irrigation District water. KID is moving to a mandatory watering schedule May 31 because of the drought. The district has water rights that can be limited, but because it lives off return flows, it expects to receive more than the 44 percent.
KID officials are working with large water users such as cities, school districts and apartment complexes and churches to have them water during the off-peak hours to even out the demand for water, said Chuck Freeman, KID’s manager.
The Kennewick School District has cut back on watering and is working with KID on watering plans. Richland city officials also are working with KID to make sure the city follows guidelines.
The new Orchard Elementary School in south Richland and White Bluffs Elementary School use KID water. The landscaping for the new school is being planted now and district officials are working on plans to keep it alive this summer, said Mark Panther, Richland School District’s executive director of support services.
Only three small Kennewick parts depend on KID for water — Hatfield Park on Canal Drive, Kenwood Park on Garfield Street and Park Hills Park near Park Middle School, said Evelyn Lusignan, Kennewick’s customer service manager. About 100 acres of Kennewick park land have KID irrigation but also have backup from the city water system.
Columbia Irrigation District, which has senior water rights that can’t be limited in the drought, provides irrigation water for about 34 acres of Kennewick parks. The city has backup city water for about 20 of those acres.
The hundreds of remaining park acres are irrigated only by city water, Lusignan said.
The Kennewick City Council likely will discuss the Yakima Basin drought and conservation measures during its June 9 council meeting.
Three Richland parks — Brookstone, Gala and Desert Rim — use KID water exclusively, while a few others split water between KID and other sources. The rest of the parks use water from either the Columbia River or groundwater.
Richland will cut back watering at the KID parks to twice a week to meet the mandatory restrictions. Parks Director Joe Schiessl said that should be enough, but special care will be taken of 20 trees planted in 2014 at Gala Park as part of Arbor Day.
Tri-City area city and school district officials say they will do their best to be good stewards of water resources, no matter the source.
The cities of Richland and Kennewick do not have the capacity to provide irrigation water to KID customers during the drought. In Richland, it is against city law to use city water on yards if a property is part of KID.