EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. — State agencies, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and major irrigation districts should start planning for drought next year as soon as this year’s irrigation season is over, the new director of the state Department of Agriculture says.
Water will be a big issue and the state needs to be better prepared, Agriculture Director Derek Sandison told about 100 members of the Chelan-Douglas Farm Bureau at their annual barbecue on Aug. 4.
“In 2014, we came pretty close to drought but we caught up on snowpack late in the season. We dodged a bullet,” Sandison said.
Last winter, everyone kept thinking there would be another “March Miracle,” but there wasn’t, he said. The rain didn’t turn into snow and “it caught us flat-footed in water leasing,” said Sandison, who was director of the state Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River at the time.
Growers in the Roza Irrigation District of the Yakima Valley had made planting decisions before Ecology approved leasing, he said. Then there were delays in appropriations of drought response funding, he said.
With the high probability of another warm, dry winter, everyone needs to be better prepared, Sandison said. Agencies need to work to improve water storage and Ecology, Agriculture, Reclamation and major irrigation districts should start talking about next year soon, he said.
“The message for the long run is we can’t take our eye off the ball,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also mentioned water, forest management to prevent forest fires, food safety and other issues in brief remarks. He said he’s still optimistic about immigration reform and that he always seeks advice from the Farm Bureau.
Newhouse, a Sunnyside grower, is a former director of the state Department of Agriculture and a former state legislator. He and his father were both county Farm Bureau presidents.