Summer 2015 Drought Updates For Yakima County
What Is Washington Doing?
The Yakima Valley continues to see commercial and domestic water wells dry out, along with less irrigation for our farmers to produce abundant crops. With hardly any snow fall in the winter of 2014 the projections foresee the extension of similar conditions in years to come.
This summer alone residence in this area have had to make many sacrifices in order to conserve water. This includes scaling back on green lawns, investing their money in drilling deeper water wells, installing water efficient pipes and household systems, not to mention the soaring produce prices at the stores, etc.
What Washington State Is Doing To Save Our Water Supply
Yakima and surrounding areas are experiencing extreme drought conditions. The Valley’s need to prepare for more droughts in years to follow. Sen. Maria Cantwell unveiled legislation that would pump millions of federal dollars into the ambitious plan to ensure adequate future water supplies for farmers, fish and municipalities.
Cantwell’s proposal (S. 1694 —Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act) seeks to secure between $10 million to $20 million per year over the next decade.
“This bill is a fantastic plan,” Cantwell told a crowd of state, county and tribal officials and representatives of environmental groups at a news conference at the Yakima Area Arboretum. “It’s a step forward on what could be one of the most divisive issues that we are seeing throughout the West.”
For decades, disputes have escalated among water users over how a limited supply of water should be used in the over-allocated Yakima River Basin.
Because of the dilemma opposing parties were forced to come together and agree on a plan to improve river flows, habitat and fish passages, as well as increase water storage.
“We will be discussing the details of how to move this project forward and how to make it a reality,” she said. “We want to move it this year and see it done by end of this year.”
Senator Cantwell’s Yakima Basin legislation illustrates beautifully how Washingtonians are tackling 19th century water problems with 21st century solutions.
Projects in the early phases of the plan include fish passage at Cle Elum Reservoir and raising the pool by 3 feet, and environmental analysis of a drought relief pumping plant on the Kachess reservoir. The state already has allocated $130 million toward the plan, approved by the Legislature in 2013.
Getting a commitment from Congress would be huge, said Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita, who has taken the lead for the county on the plan.
“This is taking us to a whole new level,” he said. “This is the beginning of a whole new era in water management.”
Water shortages this year caused by decreasing snowpack have affected growers.
Grower Mark Roy said “drought conditions this year caused him to lose 40 percent of his water allocation, forcing him to pull 125 acres of tree fruit out of production.” He’s also spending thousands of dollars on water leases from other farmers who also scaled back operations.
Already, this year’s fruit is smaller because of a lack of water.
“We won’t know the full impact of our crops until after harvest,” Roy said.
Cantwell said early estimates suggest crop loss statewide this year could total roughly $1.2 billion and that science indicates the basin will continue to face lower snowpack and drought because of climate change.
“That’s why we need to act,” she said. “These losses not only hurt our producers, but they have a ripple effect on families, communities, businesses and our state’s economy. We must do everything that we can to assure that the basin has a sustainable water supply.”
Severe drought eventually will get everyone’s attention, Morrison said.