Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, September 18, 2015, Page 4, Image 4

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September 18, 2015
Roza district growers get water a little longer
Capital Press
The Roza Irrigation District,
serving 72,000 acres of farm-
land in the Yakima Valley, is
providing more water a lit-
tle longer than it thought it
The district, one of the
hardest hit by statewide
drought, will maintain de-
liveries of 3 gallons of water
per minute per acre until Sept.
21. It had planned to cut back
to 1.8 gallons per minute on
Sept. 13. The district believes
it will provide water to Oct.
5 and a few days later in the
lower end of the district. It
had been hoping to make the
end of September and normal-
ly goes to Oct. 20.
“The (U.S.) Bureau of
Reclamation was taking a
conservative approach in cal-
culating water supply and as
we get down to the last month
we’re getting more accurate
measurements, which is giv-
ing us a little more water to
work with,” said Jim Willard,
a Roza board member and
Prosser grower.
Also helping was a lit-
tle more rain in the Cascade
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Jim Willard thins wine grapes near Sunnyside, Wash., in May. He says wine and juice grape tonnage
and apple yields will be down in the Yakima Valley because of drought.
mountains trickling into res-
ervoirs, he said.
“It’s better to have a few
more gallons and days than
to come up short from a farm
management standpoint,” he
Normally, the district pro-
vides 7.1 gallons per minute
throughout the season. This
year, because of drought, it
reduced flows early on and
then cut off all deliveries from
May 11 to June 1 to save wa-
ter for later in the season.
It resumed 1.8 gallons per
minute from June 1 to June
29, then bumped up to 2.7
gallons per minute and on
July 13 to 3 gallons per min-
ute to help crops through hot
The district is evaluating
supply and demand and if de-
mand drops off, as it normally
does about Sept. 17, deliver-
ies may extend a few days be-
yond Oct. 5, the district said
on its website.
The district has leased
some water rights from other
districts. Growers activated
emergency wells and have
compensated for less water
by fallowing corn fields, cut-
ting out less profitable apple
orchards and keeping acres
fallow that had been planned
for replanting.
Willard said there was
a sizable reduction in field
corn in the valley because of
the drought. That’s increased
costs for dairies having to
haul silage from farther away.
Cherries and pears were
The valley’s apple crop is
one to two sizes smaller be-
cause of drought and heat, he
said. He expects the statewide
apple crop to be 10 to 20 per-
cent smaller than the 125.2
million, 40-pound boxes esti-
mated in August.
“I just started picking Red
Delicious today (Sept. 14).
I’m not optimistic about qual-
ity or quantity,” he said.
He prefers size 100 to 125
for export, but is looking at
113 to 138s, which will be 10
percent less crop.
“Down Hanks Road
from my place there’s an
orchard not pushed out yet
but not watered this year.
There’s 80 acres in that
block. I know of about 200
acres in my area pushed
out (removed) because of
drought,” he said.
Willard’s wine and Con-
cord grapes are smaller due
to heat and drought. It means
less tonnage but better flavor,
he said.
Willard mowed grass be-
tween his orchard and vine-
yard rows six times this year
instead of three to keep it
shorter and save water. He
didn’t plant grass between
rows in a new vineyard plant-
ing. Grass is good for plant
Growers have invested a
lot in updating emergency
wells and operating them, he
He shares an emergency
well with a neighbor and an-
other neighbor is pumping
1,500 gallons of water per
minute from an emergency
well but it’s costing $1,350
per day in diesel.
“How many days do you
want to do that?” Willard
asked. “That’s pretty costly.
There’s also mitigation costs
(water leasing to use wells).
The Department of Ecology is
sharing in that.”
Willard said it will be No-
vember before he can tally his
bottom line and that heat and
stress has undoubtedly taken
a toll on bud development for
next year.
Irrigators worry about Ririe releases Irrigation water in
Capital Press
RIRIE, Idaho — Winter
flood-control releases have
started at Ririe Reservoir even
as the irrigation season contin-
ues, and despite water users’
concerns that storage in the
Eastern Idaho facility could be
in short supply next spring.
Bureau of Reclamation Wa-
ter Operations Manager Mike
Beus said the releases have
been authorized to start a few
weeks early to enable Bon-
neville County to commence
building a new boat ramp on
a dry bank, and to supplement
an American Falls Reservoir
water supply on the verge of
draining below minimum wa-
ter-quality standards.
Beus said releases of about
335 cubic feet per second start-
ed Sept. 10 and will continue
for 28 days, draining the res-
ervoir from 55,000 acre-feet
of storage to 39,500 acre-feet.
He emphasized the releases
are required to take place prior
to Nov. 1, anyway, under the
terms of the Army Corps of
Engineers’ winter flood-con-
trol rule curve.
Bonneville County Com-
missioner Roger Christensen
said the county also typically
likes a full reservoir for as long
as possible, but understands the
need to release water before
freezing temperatures arrive to
block channels with ice. The
irrigators, however, argue the
rule curve is flawed and wastes
critical water, and the current
situation highlights its rigidity.
“We think it’s a dumb de-
cision to prematurely draft the
reservoir,” said Stan Hawkins,
a board member with Mitiga-
tion, Inc., which is the dam’s
contracted space holder. “You
can’t turn water back uphill.”
Mitigation, Inc., formed in
1991, represents canal com-
panies upstream of American
Falls Reservoir. When a set-
tlement moved the priority
date of 1891 Shoshone-Ban-
nock tribal water rights back
to the reservation’s formation
in 1867, the canal companies
opted to mitigate the differ-
ence with Ririe Reservoir
storage rather than comput-
ing the effects on individual
water rights. Mitigation, Inc.,
can lease any remaining wa-
ter to offset operational costs.
Hawkins said obligations to
the tribes have sometimes ex-
ceeded 50,000 acre-feet. In
recent years, mountain snow-
pack has endured only at high-
er elevations, mostly missing
the Willow Creek Drainage
surrounding the reservoir.
Hawkins fears the obligation
to the tribes next season could
exceed supply if the pattern
continues, forcing members to
mitigate with their own sup-
plies, or to provide financial
“Mitigation, Inc., is more
or less on a collision course
with becoming insolvent,”
Hawkins said.
Lyle Swank, watermaster
for the Upper Snake district,
believes the winter rule curve
could be relaxed by up to
30,000 acre-feet without risk.
He said a Bureau of Reclama-
tion study validated that man-
agement is overly cautious,
but the Army Corps insists its
own study would be necessary
to implement change, with irri-
gators shouldering much of the
analysis expense. The irriga-
tors have asked their congres-
sional delegation to take up
their cause, Swank said.
Beus, however, believes
the Corps — concerned about
flash floods from a rain-on-
SW Idaho will flow
until early October
Capital Press
snow event — has already
compromised as much as
possible. Last season, he ex-
plained the Corps agreed irri-
gators could hold 5,000 acre-
feet above rule-curve limits,
provided that they contract
for heavy equipment to be
at the ready to clear winter
ice from channels. Beus ac-
knowledged the rule curve is
conservative and based on an
extremely unlikely flood but
added, “These semi-arid ba-
sins are very flashy.”
Kittitas growers find alternative water source
Capital Press
Kittitas Reclamation District ter-
minated water deliveries in early
August because of drought, but
pear and apple growers have
been finding alternative water.
Ben Kern, at the foot of the
Interstate 82 hill southeast of
Ellensburg, is an example. He
has 40 acres of pears and apples
on the KRD, cut off Aug. 6, and
another 60 acres on Cascade Ir-
rigation District, a senior water
right district that curtails water
next week.
KRD ran out 2½ months
early because it used full water
volume for first-cutting Timo-
thy. CID is finishing early for
the same reason, using up water
for hay when it was hot, Kern
Kern got approval from a
court, both irrigation districts,
the U.S. Bureau of Reclama-
tion and the state Department of
Ecology for a temporary water
right transfer that allowed him
to buy unused water from fal-
low ground in the CID and use
it on his orchards dry from the
KRD shut off.
“That’s how I got by. Most
other growers got by with emer-
gency drought wells,” he said.
That included big compa-
nies — Zirkle Fruit Company
of Selah and Columbia Valley
Fruit of Yakima, he said.
Kern is close to finishing
pear and apple harvests and said
fruit size suffered some because
of heat and lack of water.
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Ben Kern, pear grower, Ellens-
burg, Wash., May 28.
BOISE — Most canals in
Southwestern Idaho will con-
tinue to carry irrigation water
until the first part of October.
But water managers expect
to have less carryover water
than they did last year once
the season ends.
Water managers said area
reservoirs entered the 2015
season with a decent amount
of carryover water, which en-
abled most irrigators to have
a mostly normal water season
despite poor snowpack this
past winter.
The Boise Project Board
of Control, which delivers
water to five irrigation dis-
tricts and 165,000 acres on
the Boise River system, will
turn off deliveries on Oct. 5.
How much storage water
is left in the system’s Ander-
son Reservoir account will
determine how much wa-
ter is moved downstream to
Lake Lowell after Oct. 5 to
pad that reservoir a little bit
prior to next year, said BPBC
Manager Tim Page.
Page said it’s anticipated
the project will have about
the same or maybe a little bit
more carryover water in its
reservoirs as it did in 2014
— 150,000 acre-feet — when
the season ends.
But other districts expect
to have less carryover water
than they did last year.
Canals on the Payette Riv-
er system will continue to
carry irrigation water through
October, said watermaster
Ron Shurtleff.
“We’re in good shape this
year,” he said. “But reservoir
levels are very low and we
have a challenge ahead of us
to make sure we have a good
supply for next year.”
The tentative cutoff date
for Pioneer Irrigation Dis-
trict water deliveries is Oct. 6
but the firmness of that date
depends on what some other
districts do with their water
in the next few weeks, said
Alan Newbill, president of
Pioneer’s board of directors.
But Pioneer’s carryover
water supply will be about a
third less than what it was in
2014, he said.
Nampa & Meridian Irri-
gation District, the valley’s
largest, will continue deliver-
ing water until Oct. 1. NMID
Water Superintendent Greg
Curtis said the district ex-
pects to have less carryover
water than the 35,000 acre-
feet it did last year, “which
isn’t a lot. Carryover is going
to be pretty bleak.”
Like most irrigators in
the valley, farmers and
others who get their water
from the Payette system
will be depending on a de-
cent snowpack this winter
to provide them with an ad-
equate water supply for the
2016 season.
The Payette system start-
ed the 2015 season with
good carryover supplies from
2014, but it won’t have that
luxury next season, Shurtleff
Newbill said last year’s
decent carryover supplies
and a conservative approach
to water use by the district
and its 5,800 patrons were
both major factors in making
this year’s water supply last
until October.
“Everybody’s learning to
be more careful with their
water. We certainly could
have used it all this year,” he
said. “That’s been the whole
key: be really conservative
with the water and make it
SAGE Fact #117
In 1905 Congress authorized the
Umatilla Project. The project connected
many private water canals and ultimately
converted 45,000 acres of sagebrush into
productive agricultural land.
Visit the SAGE Center:
Sunday - Thursday 10am - 5pm
Friday & Saturday 10am - 6pm