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Yakima irrigators want more lake water

Not everyone is onboard, but a Yakima Valley irrigation district is pursuing a plan to get more water out of a Cascade Mountain reservoir next summer if the valley's drought continues.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on December 2, 2015 8:36AM


SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — Roza Irrigation District is pushing ahead with a $58 million project to get more water out of Kachess Lake if the Central Washington drought continues next summer.

The district, one of the largest in the Yakima Valley, is doing so despite a possible lawsuit from some lake residents who don’t want the lake drawn down another 18 feet below it’s current lowest level.

Kachess, just a few miles east of Snoqualmie Pass, is one of five reservoirs feeding 464,000 acres of mostly irrigated farmland in the Kittitas and Yakima valleys. Loss of crop production in the valleys due to drought this year was preliminarily estimated at $1.2 billion by the state Department of Agriculture.

The lake can store 239,000 acre feet of water. The project would enable the Roza to get up to 50,000 acre feet of that water that it can’t get now because it’s below the lake’s outflow.

The Roza received 47 percent of normal water this past season due to the drought. An additional 50,000 acre feet would have raised that to 55 percent, said Scott Revell, district manager.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is now estimating junior water right holders, including the Roza and Kittitas Reclamation District, could be as low as 27 to 35 percent of normal water next year if there’s a repeat of low snowpack this year, Revell said.

“In that case, we would probably have two shutdowns of two weeks each in the spring (instead of the one this year) and a trickle all summer and end the season early,” Revell said. “It would be far worse than what we just went through.”

Revell sent a letter in August to the Bureau of Reclamation which manages the five reservoirs and water deliveries to irrigation districts. Revell proposed floating pumps for Kachess to get more irrigation water.

The bureau is holding meetings to gather public comment at the: Hal Holmes Center in Ellensburg, Dec. 7; the USFS ranger station, 802 2nd Ave., Cle Elum, Dec. 8; and at the Best Western in Sunnyside, Dec. 9. All meetings are 4 to 7 p.m.

The Roza has to work through about a dozen local, state and federal agencies to gain approval and is on a very tight time line to have pumps operational by July 1, Revell said.

“There are a lot of moving parts, but so far they all appear to be moving in the same direction,” he said.

One exception maybe some Kachess Lake residents concerned about their wells and bull trout.

“There likely will be a lawsuit. They’ve hired lawyers,” Revell said.

Some dairy owners in the Roza also don’t favor the project because it’s not cost effective for them, Revell said. The same is true for some growers in Kittitas Valley.

The Kittitas Reclamation District hasn’t joined the project. Its manager is trying to figure how to assess just those who want it. Revell is trying to do the same in the Roza, but said it is difficult to separate out users from non-users for assessments and water deliveries.

So far, the plan is for Roza growers to pay $85 per acre per year over 10 years to pay for a loan for the project. Costs and assessments are being fine tuned and there could be savings in acquiring slightly used pumps from the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas.

The project would be similar but not the same as a Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan to pump more water from the lake several years from now.

The project for next year would be an temporary, emergency one and the bureau is cooperating with the Roza in looking at it, said Chris Lynch, bureau hydrologist in Yakima.



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