PROSSER, Wash. — The Roza canal normally runs big and fat through Brad Klingele’s apple orchard and vineyard this time of year.

It’s 20 feet wide, about 5 feet deep and full of that precious water from the Cascade Mountains, the lifeblood of more than 350,000 acres of farmland in the Yakima Valley. Some 72,000 acres of that is within the Roza Irrigation District, stretching 95 miles from Selah to Benton City.

But this May, the Roza canal is dry. The irrigation district’s board voted to shut it down for several weeks to save water for later in the growing season. The Roza and other irrigation districts throughout the Yakima Basin were forced to turn to reservoir water earlier than normal because of the scant Cascade snow pack.

Klingele, 51, farms the land his father farmed seven miles north of Prosser. He raises apples, cherries, pears and juice and wine grapes. He hopes for full crops but figures the fruit might be smaller, tonnage may be down and he might have pockets of poor quality due to less water.

Higher expenses and lower tonnage equal less profit.

The state Department of Agriculture estimates the drought will cost $1.2 billion, or about 12 percent in lost agricultural production. Klingele isn’t sure total losses will be that high because of the much-needed rain that has fallen. He said most of the loss will probably be in tree fruit.

The Roza began water deliveries in mid-March at full allocations of 7.1 gallons per minute. It was reduced to 1.8 gpm on April 20 to save water and completely shut down on May 11 for several weeks to save water for July and August.

The 1.8 gallons per minute “is about what you get from a garden hose, not nearly enough,” Klingele said.

He and his neighbors “were grabbing whatever runoff we could,” from irrigation drainage and natural creeks and springs and storing it in ponds to cover a few acres of crops.

Klingele also has two wells, one that produces 200 gallons per minute, “which doesn’t do a lot,” and another that produces 500 gpm, “so it covers quite a bit.”

“There’s expense in making sure you capture every drop. I’m looking at doing a road crossing with an 8-inch line to better utilize the well,” he said.

Then came the big rain of May 13.

“The rain was a game changer. The Roza district got some of the heaviest rain in the whole state. Most areas got 1.4 to 1.5 inches. That’s equivalent to a couple of irrigations,” Klingele said.

It should save his cherry crop and keep his apple trees from wilting, he said. The rain over watered his grapes but they will dry out.

“I heard of one guy in Grandview whose cherry trees were already too stressed and dry before the rain who apparently doesn’t think he will have a cherry crop,” Klingele said.

But that’s the only one he’s heard of in such dire straits. Most growers, he said, have supplemental wells, which help but are not enough alone. They are scraping by, he said.

There are different classifications of wells. Supplemental wells can be used at farmers’ discretion. Emergency wells need state approval and the purchase of offsetting water.

“Without my wells and ditch drainage, I would be struggling to keep trees alive, let alone trying to size fruit like cherries or keep an apple crop on the trees,” he said.

Klingele said the Roza Irrigation District does a good job of being efficient with water but that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation “screwed up big time” with its forecast for the Yakima Basin water supply.

The bureau, he said, has been slow on estimates. Had it more accurately forecast reductions for junior water rights earlier, more growers in the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District could have held off planting and leased water to Roza users, he said. The Sunnyside has senior water rights; the Roza has junior rights. Some Sunnyside farmers have leased their water to the Roza District, receiving $500 an acre.

Also, Roza growers could have “loaded their soil” — over irrigated early on to store water in the ground.

“Normally, you don’t do that because you don’t want to slow down the progression of trees coming out of winter. But if you have to do it, you can get through,” he said.

Chris Lynch, bureau hydrologist in Yakima, said the forecast of 73 percent of normal water supply on March 1 was reasonable given the weather forecast and recent trends of late winter snow in the mountains.

“But March and April turned out pretty poor. He (Klingele) wished we were able to foresee the future a little better, but we weren’t able to,” Lynch said. “This year was unique in that we got mostly rain and very little snow through the winter, which was difficult for our model to represent based on historical data.”

A short distance north of Klingele’s orchard on McDonald Road, Patricia O’Brien, owner of Vine Heart Winery, said the drought is a “very serious thing with many crops” and that her orchards and vineyards would be hurting without wells.

“We checked our soil profile today (May 20) and at 3 feet there’s plenty of moisture,” she said. “That’s because of the rain, wells and the weather hasn’t been too hot.”

North from O’Brien’s, Jim Willard, a Roza board member, watched Roza employees running two excavators reshaping and clearing the dry canal lateral of weeds. The lateral feeds his orchards and vineyards, and the work will make flow more efficient when water is turned on again.

Willard is worried about lack of water affecting the size and quality of his cherries in June and his apples in the fall.

“Apples are just 10 millimeters now. Lack of water slows their growth and trees start to wilt. But if we have more rain — there are a lot of what-ifs,” he said. “It’s critical for me to be able to water into later September for my wine grapes.”

The target, he said, is to have flow bumped up to 2.8 to 3.3 gmp from mid-July through August.

East of Sunnyside, on Factory Road, Roy Ruiz said he’s sharing an irrigation well with four other growers and hopes to make it through the drought without losing crops.

“I came from Mexico in 1972. I’m living the American dream. Now we worry the American dream will go away with all the problems we’re having,” Ruiz, 63, said, noting the drought is on top of a year of low apple prices.

Webster Road runs between Ruiz’s cherry orchard and J&K Dairy, formerly Tony Vega Dairy. Hundreds of Holsteins were in the dairy yard but the Roza canal to the east was dry. The dairy’s operators could not be reached for comment.

West of Sunnyside, near Outlook, Genny DeRuyter, co-owner of DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, said the valley’s dairies that depend on the Roza are in tougher straits than others.

Her dairy has enough water because it is on the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District.

“But a lot of people we buy corn silage from are on the Roza and aren’t growing silage this year,” she said. “So we have to go farther outside the local area and pay a higher price.”

Corn silage is a main year-round feed for the dairies. They also use a lot of hay but already get a lot of it from outside the valley.

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