YAKIMA, Wash. — Irrigation districts served by the Yakima, Wenatchee, Methow and Okanogan rivers may run short of water before the end of September but this summer’s drought most likely won’t be as severe as those in 2005 and 2015, a state water expert says.
“We are not in a dire situation. While below normal, we had considerably better snowpack this winter than in 2015 and 2005,” says Scott Pattee, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service state water supply specialist in Mount Vernon.
That’s reflected by junior water right holders in the Yakima Basin now scheduled to receive 74% of full water entitlements through Sept. 30. In 2015 they ended up at 47% and in 2005 they dropped to 42%, said Chris Lynch, hydrologist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Yakima.
The projection was released June 6 and is down a percentage point from a month earlier.
As of June 6, the five mountain reservoirs serving the Yakima Basin were at 867,911 acre-feet of water, or 81% of capacity and 91% of average for this time of year. The turning point of drawdown outpacing inflows was about to occur any day, Lynch said.
Snowpack is 20% of normal, which is down because of little recent mountain snow and most snowpack melting two to four weeks early, Pattee said. Snow is scarce below 6,500 feet elevation, he said.
“The thing is now we know what we have in snowpack, which is that it’s mostly melted away. The uncertainty is the extent of weather this summer, how much rain and temperatures. We’re pretty confident the 74% (water supply for junior water right holders) will hold and hope it creeps up,” Lynch said.
Urban Eberhart, manager of the Kittitas Reclamation District in Ellensburg, said the district will continue to provide 4 acre-feet per acre for season supply, down from 5 acre-feet, and likely will run out of water three weeks early in September.
The junior water right district serves 60,000 acres of hay, pastures and tree fruit in the Kittitas Valley. Some growers may have to prioritize fields but there shouldn’t be significant crop loss, he has said.
The Roza Irrigation District, serving 1,700 growers on 72,000 acres from East Selah to Benton City, has reduced deliveries to 3.3 gallons per minute per acre in June and to 2.7 in September and 2.4 in October in order to have 4.0 gallons per minute per acre in July and August.
The priority is to have water into October for crops in two-thirds of the district that need late season water, said Scott Revell, district manager.
Tony Jantzer, manager of the Peshastin and Icicle irrigation districts up the Wenatchee Valley, said he’s concerned about possibly having to drop Peshastin district pear growers from 6.75 gallons per minute per acre to 4.5 gallons, which isn’t enough.
Greg Nordang, board chairman of the Methow Valley Irrigation District, said most irrigation districts on the Methow and Okanogan rivers probably have senior water rights, but that individual growers with junior water rights on both rivers may face restrictions.
Brad Armstrong, manager of Okanogan Irrigation District, said no restrictions are planned yet and that service ending dates depend on lake levels, which right now are almost full.
The state Department of Ecology said there are about 100 junior water right users on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers and 62 on the Methow. The Okanogan was last regulated beginning on June 29, 2015, which was fairly early. DOE said it expects to issue restrictions earlier than normal in these watersheds this year.