Revised KID drought plan makes trees, gardens a priority

A piece of heavy equipment is driven on the access road of a Kennewick Irrigation Canal in south-central Kennewick in June, during the drought.
A piece of heavy equipment is driven on the access road of a Kennewick Irrigation Canal in south-central Kennewick in June, during the drought. Tri-City Herald

The Kennewick Irrigation District board has revised its drought plan after listening to concerns, many of them from homeowners, at an August town hall meeting.

The revised plan will give the same priority to residential trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens as given to farmers’ perennial crops in case of an extreme drought.

The board approved the original drought policy in spring 2014, outlining the district’s goals and the tools available to give direction to staff, said Seth Defoe, KID’s land and water resources manager.

The first chance it had to use the plan was this year, but the district did not need to go to the prioritization list, Defoe said. Watering times were restricted, but district members were not prohibited from watering lawns or vegetation.

The changes clarify how water use would be prioritized in an extreme drought to make the best use of limited water and to make the policy consistent with state water law, Defoe said.

“KID recognizes that water users who have a water allotment and who have beneficially used water on their property have protected property rights that are shared in common with all other similar KID water users,” says language added to the plan.

During years with adequate water, KID does not attempt to prioritize irrigation use beyond limiting the amount of the annual allotment, it said. During drought years, the district will attempt to deliver shares to users as equally as possible given limitations of its system and available water.

But if so little water is available that dividing it equally would give no user enough water to save vegetation, KID will prioritize water to allow at least some landowners enough water for beneficial use, according to the revised drought plan.

State law directs water managers to allocate water among potential users “based generally on securing maximum net benefits for the people of the state,” the policy said.

Previously, perennial crops were listed as the top priority.

The revision adds language covering other plants, including residential and commercial landscape trees, shrubs and other perennial vegetation. It also adds residential fruit and vegetable gardens and public space trees, including street trees, plus shrubs and perennials.

It specifically excludes hay, alfalfa, lawns and grass from the top priority.

The board and staff considered the financial costs of replacing residential and commercial landscaping in making the change, Defoe said. Removing dead trees and replacing them, for example, could be expensive.

The second priority would be annual crops, or those that must be planted every year, like potatoes. “We’re talking people’s livelihood,” Defoe said.

Third would be public space lawns — such as parks, cemeteries and lawns — on the theory that such green space is a community asset that benefits everyone. Golf courses also are included because they have an economic component.

Last on the list are residential lawns and flowers that are replanted each year.

Lawn grass that is not watered can go dormant for up to six weeks, Defoe said. It may turn brown, but it is still alive, as can be seen by lawns that are recovering around the Tri-Cities now as the weather cools.

But most trees and shrubs don’t go dormant. They die, he said.

“Prioritization is not what we want to do,” he said.

The list has been updated in the drought plan in preparation for only the direst conditions, he said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews