Wednesday, July 1, 2015

City of Anacortes helps Skagit Delta farms survive drought

Update (July 8, 2015): Ecology has approved additional emergency drought assistance to Districts 15 and 22. The Skagit Public Utility District will provide 1.6 million gallons per day, under terms similar to the assistance provided by the City of Anacortes. 

By Larry Altose, Communications Manager, Northwest Regional Office

A beet seed crop grows in the Skagit Valley.
The city of Anacortes has extended a helping hand by making water available to neighboring Skagit Delta farmers caught without water for their crops in Washington’s worsening drought.

Ecology rapidly processed the drought authorization emergency order over the weekend that allows the city to provide water to two irrigation districts for the summer.

The irrigation districts are part of a 90,000-acre Skagit Valley 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.

Urban water suppliers help farm neighbors

A pump draws water from the Skagit River.
Anacortes stepped in with a season’s worth of help for Irrigation Districts 15 and 22 after the Skagit County Public Utility district provided the irrigators with a temporary supply of water in June.

The city water will help alleviate the effects of record low flow in the Skagit River, combined with the ample heat and lack of rainfall seen throughout the state. Districts 15 and 22 ran dry in mid-June, placing about 5,000 acres of crops at risk.

Ditches dried up early

The districts collect rainwater from drainage ditches, a supply that normally lasts into June or July, before pumping river water. But as holders of junior water rights, and with the Skagit running well below the level set to protect fish runs, the districts cannot draw from the river in the normal manner. Instead they now are able to buy almost five million gallons a day from Anacortes.

High tide pumping protects fish runs

The Skagit River's low flows are setting records. 
There are no pipes from Anacortes to the delta irrigators, so how does the water get to the farmers? Each day, the city forgoes over 4.8 million gallons of water that it diverts from the river at its upstream withdrawal point.

The districts, which are located closer to the mouth of the Skagit on Puget Sound, pump that amount from the river. But, they do so only during the three hours before and after high tide. That way, they keep from further lowering the river’s flow.

Supplies remain short

But it’s not quite enough to meet all of the season’s expected irrigation needs. The districts can continue efforts to negotiate for additional “senior” water, adopt conservation measures to reduce water losses, or both. Ecology will continue its assistance to help alleviate the significant drought hardships in this area.

See Washington Drought 2015 for updates on drought conditions and Ecology’s assistance efforts. 

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