Mid-Columbia agencies asked to push water conservation

Mid-Columbia agencies are being given tips to conserve water.
Mid-Columbia agencies are being given tips to conserve water.

While the effects of this drought are still being felt across the Mid-Columbia, area water officials are urging cities, schools and parks to start preparing for drought conditions next summer.

On Wednesday, the subcommittee of the Yakima Integrated Plan Workgroup focused on municipal water use announced that a letter has been sent to 204 public entities asking them to consider voluntarily adopting water conservation strategies or encouraging their customers to do so.

Letters went to the cities of Kennewick, Richland, Prosser and Benton City; Benton County; and the ports of Kennewick and Benton. They also went to schools in Richland, Kennewick, West Richland, Prosser and Benton City.

“I think this drought caught some folks off guard, but we can think ahead for next year,” said Dave Brown, water and irrigation manager for the city of Yakima. He cited forecasts that drought conditions are likely to continue through the winter and into next year.

He’s on the group that developed the integrated plan, a 30-year, $4 to $6 billion effort to improve water management in the region for farmers, fish, and communities.

While most of the region’s water goes to agriculture, it’s important for municipal and resident users to help conserve water during drought as well, he said.

“If we turned off all the city’s irrigation water for a year, it’d be a half of day of the region’s ag use, but it’s just the right thing to do,” Brown said. “We can’t be sitting here in the city with our green lawns telling farmers they have to make do with less.”

Grass can adapt to using less water during the hot summer weather if its watered less frequently in the fall and spring to encourage development of deeper roots, he said. The letter also asked agencies to use root-enhancing fertilizers rather than nitrogen-based ones.

Brown said that he expects some of the letters to simply end up in the trash. But he hopes to get some people thinking and planning about being more water-efficient in the future, especially if next summer ends up like this one.

“Changing that culture here of lush, green dark grass when it’s 102 degrees out is going to take time. It’s not going to change with one letter,” Brown said. “But we can get prepared for this.”