Irrigation woes

The Yakima River flows through Prosser, Wash., to the top of Prosser Dam, where diversion for Kennewick Irrigation District starts.

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Mismanagement of Yakima Basin water conservation by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is threatening the supply of water to the Kennewick Irrigation District, the district’s managers say.

“The threat to our water supply is coming from a lack of leadership at the bureau. We’re not contesting conservation. We do it, too. We contest how the bureau manages the conserved water,” Charles Freeman, KID manager, told Capital Press.

While not directly responding to the allegations of “mismanagement” and “lack of leadership,” Chad Stuart, manager of the bureau’s Yakima office, issued a statement saying KID is a “valuable partner” in the Yakima Basin.

The bureau is aware of KID’s water supply challenges and will continue regular meetings with KID to address them, Stuart said.

“Electrification (of the Chandler pumping plant) is one of many options that has been discussed to replace any reductions to KID’s water supply” resulting from conservation authorized in the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, Stuart said.

The KID diverts water from the Yakima River at the Prosser Dam into Chandler Canal, and 11 miles downstream. The Chandler Power and Pumping Plant pumps the water up to the district’s main canal to serve its customers.

Hydraulic pumps at Chandler use 1.25 gallons of water for every gallon they pump to the main canal, said Jason McShane, KID engineering and operations manager. A proposed $23 million project to electrify pumping would double the water going to the district in water-short years, he said.

Such water may be made available to KID only to replace reductions caused by conservation. The KID and bureau managers don’t agree on how to quantify the amount, according to a May 16 letter from Stuart to Freeman.

The KID serves 65,000 Kennewick and Richland residents and 20,200 acres, of which about 11,000 acres are in orchards, vineyards and some blueberries, hay, pasture and row crops.

The district has rights to 102,674 acre-feet of water annually from the Yakima River and uses about 87,000 acre-feet, McShane said.

As the last major irrigation district downriver on the 214-mile system, the KID uses water returned to the river from operational spills and seepage from other irrigation districts upriver.

Increased conservation by those districts in recent years has reduced return-flow water for the KID, causing it to call for direct releases of mountain reservoir storage water for the first time this year.

Direct releases are not a sustainable solution because they take water away from upriver districts and are not sufficient in severe drought, McShane said.

Less return-flow was anticipated and planned for in the 1994 enabling legislation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, McShane said.

“We supported that legislation because it obligates the Secretary of the Interior to replace water loss for the district,” he said.

The law gives the secretary options to do that. The one KID has pushed for is electrification of the Chandler pumping plant. Another option, called subordination, is reducing the 12,000-kilowatt power production at Chandler to save water, and the bureau already is doing that, according to Stuart’s letter.

Even with electrification of the pumps, the bureau and some of its other constituents are concerned about having enough water in the remaining portion of the river from Benton City downriver for fish, McShane said.

“It’s a timing issue,” he said. “There are fewer concerns during certain times of the year when fewer fish are present.”

KID raised its issues with the bureau in 2014 and it has taken the bureau four years to acknowledge it has an obligation to do something, McShane said.

There’s been a lack of leadership at the bureau from the local to national level, but Brenda Burman, bureau commissioner, has visited the Chandler pump station and the bureau finally is acknowledging the Secretary of the Interior’s obligation to do something, McShane said.

“Our customers have a right to federal water and the federal government has to meet that obligation,” he said.

Two Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District conservation projects and one Roza Irrigation District project have saved approximately 39,200 acre-feet of return flow from reaching the KID, Freeman said, adding he doesn’t know how much has been saved by other projects.

Last October, the KID withdrew from the Yakima Basin Joint Board, a group of irrigation districts that discusses basin water policy.

“The board has moved away from a collaborative approach to a more parochial one, which often works against the lower river basin and KID’s interests,” Freeman wrote to the board.

Some board members didn’t support Chandler pump electrification, saying it might harm fish, Freeman wrote. Some also said loss of KID water is justified because KID receives more water than other districts during pro-rationing in drought and because a large amount of KID water goes to residences instead of agriculture, he wrote.

“It’s true the KID receives more on average but in July and August we get less than everyone else because the water is not there,” Freeman said.

Some say KID is misinterpreting the 1994 legislation but its “plain language” protects the KID, he said.

“We need the federal government to provide leadership and resolve these issues. In our opinion the bureau is more concerned with the politics of the basin than what the law requires. Our contract and the law is clear,” Freeman said.

The Roza Irrigation District in Sunnyside and Kittitas Reclamation District in Ellensburg are two members of the joint board and the junior water right districts most affected in water shortage years.

The Roza has spent $10 million since 2015 piping open canals and lining and sealing canals to conserve water.

“The KID has taken a more bellicose approach lately. They filed an appeal on the environmental permitting of our pipe project last year and we have ongoing litigation on that,” said Scott Revell, manager of the Roza Irrigation District. “It’s unhelpful to working together.”

Urban Eberhart, Kittitas Reclamation manager, said he’s optimistic the bureau, KID and state Department of Ecology can work things out through the integrated management plan.

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