Friday, July 5, 2019

Water Watch: Drought well program launched in Yakima Basin

Irrigators can learn about emergency drought permits at July 11 workshop

Naches River is running low as it flows to its confluence with the Yakima River (Photo by Eiko Urmos-Beery 2019)

In light of current water conditions in the Yakima River Basin, Ecology is launching a drought well relief program to assist  junior irrigators in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Yakima Project who are receiving less than 70 percent of their normal water supply.

A workshop is set for 2-5 p.m. on July 11, 2019, at our Central Regional Office, 1250 W. Alder St., Union Gap, for irrigators who have or are considering applying for emergency drought permits this irrigation season.

Irrigators will learn under what conditions emergency groundwater permits may be authorized, and about this drought year’s cost-sharing program. Impacts of groundwater pumping to the aquifer must be offset through the purchase of mitigation water, to protect senior water users.

Under the state's drought relief program, the groundwater applicant and the state share in the cost to obtain mitigation water. Applicants will be required to pay $500 per acre feet of water authorized.

“We will also have time for questions, and will provide information on well construction, water measuring and reporting requirements, as well as other options that might be available to those needing emergency water,” explained Trevor Hutton, Ecology’s water resources manager in Union Gap.

Program designed for irrigators whose water is rationed

Now that the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that pro-ratable water users will receive only 67 percent of their normal water supply, we can begin considering emergency drought groundwater applications.

In the Yakima River Basin, project irrigators with junior water rights, including the Kittitas and Roza districts, have agreed to live with 70 percent of their normal water supply without tapping into drought wells under goals of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. This is to protect groundwater and senior water rights, including rights held by the Yakama Nation.

Drought was declared in the Upper Yakima Basin on April 4, 2019, and drought was declared for the rest of the three-county watershed on May 20, 2019. State drought declarations may be made when the projected water supply dips to 75 percent of normal and watersheds are deemed to be at risk of suffering hardships.

Water users may also apply for expedited water-right transfers negotiated between willing private parties the drought declaration, and other non-project emergency well permits must bring proposed mitigation for consideration in the Yakima River Basin. 

Other Central Washington drought tidbits

  • Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District is fallowing 1,800 acres of land this irrigation season and making water available to other farmers who may be facing a shortfall or are shutoff this summer. The district has 5,600 acre-feet of water that is available to lease. About 100 water users on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers in Okanogan County have been shut off due to low streamflows and the lack of snowmelt runoff from Canada. Learn more at the OTID water bank website
  • Kittitas County will be holding a public auction to lease county water rights to eligible bidders at 10 a.m. on July 9 in the Board of County Commissioner’s auditorium at 205 W 5th Avenue in Ellensburg. Staff will auction 25 (twenty five) acre-foot blocks of water at a minimum bid price of $240 per acre-foot. Irrigators interested in bidding must complete an eligibility review as described in the public notice
  • People who have questions about drought response in Chelan, Kittitas, Okanogan, Yakima and Benton counties may contact our customer service line at 509-575-2490.

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications

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