Water from utility district staves off problems for nation’s seed crop
By Larry Altose, Communications Manager, Northwest Regional Office
Skagit Valley farmers who produce much of our nation’s vegetable seed supply got a needed shot in the arm thanks to their local public utility district. But the fix will fade in just days as western Washington’s unusually warm and dry weather continues to affect the region’s growers.
|Water from an irrigation ditch is pumped to a field's sprinklers.|
The heat and lack of precipitation as we enter summer is compounding the unprecedented lack of snowpack in the Cascade and Olympic mountains that prompted last month’s statewide drought declaration.
For 24 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, two irrigation districts serving farms that grow about 5,000 acres of irrigated crops switched on pumps to receive nearly 13 million gallons of water from the Skagit Public Utility District (PUD). Ecology authorized the temporary transfer of the PUD’s water rights downstream to Drainage and Irrigation Improvement District No. 15 and Consolidated Diking Improvement District No. 22.
Too little rainwater and no snow to speak of
|Skagit County lacked rainfall most of this spring.|
Meanwhile, the Skagit River is running at 40 percent of its normal flow this week. The northern Cascade snowpack – which was 9 percent of normal on June 1 – has melted. The river’s flow this week is about 9,300 cubic feet per second. Flows below 12,000 cubic feet per second – a level set by state rule to protect fish runs – trigger water cutoffs for holders of junior water rights.
Juniors and seniors
Even before that, Ecology had started work with the districts on the next phase – to find a long term solution – and do so in a way that protects fish runs by not further lowering the river.
Seeds for the world
|Districts 15 and 22 are west of Mount Vernon.|
The Skagit Valley is a 90,000-acre farming area that provides an unusually large share of the U.S. farm seed supply. This includes 95 percent of table beets and 75 percent of spinach and cabbage. Worldwide, the valley produces 8 percent of the spinach seed supply and 25 percent of cabbage and beet seed.
Skagit County also supplies the nation and world with seed for arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, coriander, mustard, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, Swiss chard, and turnip.
The valley’s strategic role as a seed supplier adds a far-reaching dimension to Ecology’s efforts to relieve the hardships of Washington’s drought.