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Posted on May 22, 2015

Local irrigation district expects normal year

While a good portion of the state’s farmers are expected to endure harsh drought conditions this summer, farmers in the Columbia Basin should expect to see a normal year, the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District reported this week.
That’s because the watershed for the Columbia Basin Project originates in the Canadian Rockies, where the snowpack was at 80 percent to 90 percent of normal, said Darvin Fales, manager of the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District.
“We don’t anticipate having any rationing or any supply problems,” Fales said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee last Friday declared a statewide drought emergency, forecasting $1.2 billion in crop losses, a difficult wildfire season and possible water shortages for small communities around the state.
The drought’s impact is already being felt in the Yakima River Basin, Central Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula, where snowpack is completely melted.
“This drought has deepened dramatically over the past few weeks, it has spread quickly and now encompasses all of the state of Washington,” Inslee said in a press release.
The governor first announced a drought emergency in March for 11 watersheds in the state, including the Wenatchee and Entiat rivers, then expanded that in April to include more watersheds and much of nearby Chelan County.
After a survey on May 1 found snowpack to be an unprecedented 16 percent of normal, the statewide emergency was declared. The governor’s office reported that of the 98 sites where snow was measured, 66 are completely melted out and 11 of those are snow-free for the first time ever.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation is now tapping reservoirs to provide irrigation water to farmers two months earlier than usual, Inslee said. Some Yakima irrigation districts are already turning off water to customers to conserve water for later in the year. Water is being moved from creek to creek in the Walla Walla area to insure enough for fish passage, and fish are already being trucked to cooler waters in some river basins.
In Quincy, Fales said the massive irrigation project that is the Columbia Basin Project is fortunate to be drawing its water from the Columbia River. Irrigators use only a small amount of the river’s water – 3 percent to 5 percent – for the Columbia Basin Project, which includes 670,000 acres under irrigation and supports about 2,050 farms.
The Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District, a part of the project, covers 1,300 square miles and 247,452 irrigated areas. This area has never received less than 100 percent of its water allotment since 1948, when water was first delivered by the project, Fales said.
“We are really blessed by the Columbia River,” he said.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,