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Editorial: KID irrigation customers will be left behind by new water plan. It must be fixed

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The future looks bleak for Tri-Citians who rely on water from the Kennewick Irrigation District unless changes are made in how KID gets water to its customers.

KID Manager Charles Freeman recently told the Tri-City Herald that water conservation efforts in the northern Yakima Basin will further limit the water supply in the southern basin, which means the Tri-Cities.

Freeman said the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan is supposed to “raise all boats,” but in reality there is “one boat going down” and it is the KID.

That’s a troubling prediction.

Last spring there was a celebration in Central Washington when federal legislation finally was approved allocating $75 million for Phase III of the integrated water plan.

The project was launched decades ago and provides a comprehensive strategy for water management in the Yakima Basin.

After the funding boost was announced, several representatives who have been involved in the plan — including one from KID — met with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board and praised the collaboration by irrigators, tribal leaders, conservationists, residential water users, government officials and other stakeholders.

But behind the victory KID officials had serious concerns, though they decided not to detract from the legislative achievement by bringing attention to their position.

They have since, however, told the Herald about the negative impacts they believe the plan will have in the Tri-Cities.

As it turns out, there has been tension between the Yakima Basin Joint Board and the KID for some time. Last October, KID officially gave notice it was breaking away from the group.

In its withdrawal letter, Freeman told the board that over the past several years the Joint Board has moved away from a “collaborative approach to a more parochial one, which often works against the lower river basin and KID’s interests.”

The letter also says KID will continue to work “collaboratively with good partners in the Basin” who have the “express intent to improve” elements of the integrated plan without harming anyone else.

“Yet, there are certain members of the Joint Board who appear from their actions to be willing to improve their situation at the expense of others,” the letter said.

Freeman said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently acknowledged that the Secretary of the Interior must ensure KID’s irrigation water supply won’t be hurt by the plan’s conservation measures.

But how that happens is unclear.

For years, KID has been pushing to change the hydraulic system at the Chandler Power and Pumping Plant to electrical.

Hydraulic pumps require significantly more water to work, and the electrification project would help make up for the loss of water KID expects to see after changes are implemented along the upper Yakima River.

Congress authorized that project in 1994, but members of the Yakima Basin Joint Board have not been supportive, Freeman said.

As conservation improvements are made in the upper Yakima Basin, the concerns of KID and its customers also should be addressed.

KID serves an estimated 65,000 Tri-Citians over 20,200 acres, and Freeman said about half of that acreage is agricultural production.

Limited water is serious, and it isn’t fair that a plan that is supposed to help all stakeholders ends up harming one irrigation district and its customers — most of them residential.

The latest forecast by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows water supply at 72 percent for those with junior water rights. KID has a mix of water rights, with 85 percent junior and 16 percent senior.

There’s no way of knowing what the water supply will be as the summer heat hits, but Freeman said if it gets down to 60 percent, then Tri-Citians will have to ration.

And in the years to come, without mitigation, our water supply will be even more unstable.

Those stakeholders who patted themselves on the back for working collaboratively on the Yakima Basin integrated plan were out of line by not acknowledging the negative impact to KID and the Tri-City area. And it needs to be fixed.

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