Department of Ecology News Release - June 26, 2015

Early water restrictions for eastern Washington irrigators

OLYMPIA – A dramatic drop in streamflows caused by drought has several hundred irrigators in north-central and eastern Washington facing water cutoffs far earlier than normal this year.

That’s because snowpack in Washington melted a month early, and 43 percent of rivers statewide are now running at record-low levels.

As a result, about 380 irrigators on the Wenatchee, Okanogan, Similkameen, Methow, Colville and Little Spokane rivers are being notified by the Department of Ecology to curtail their water use.

These irrigators have water rights that can be restricted when streamflows drop below certain levels (as set by law). Water users will call a hotline to find out if they can irrigate that day.

Junior water users on the Colville River may have their water use regulated for the first time ever this year. The river is currently flowing at 28 percent of normal.

“These are really hard times for farms and fish, and many people in the state,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “We’re working hard to provide support and relief across the state to communities and irrigation districts. We’ve asked the legislature for emergency funding so we can continue our work.”

In a normal year, junior water users aren’t typically asked to restrict their use until late September.

Snowpack is the primary water supply for most of Washington’s rivers. In a normal year, snow accumulates over the winter and then slowly melts in the spring and summer with the runoff feeding our rivers and farms.

Since June 15, some 40-plus users on the Wenatchee River have been required to stop watering unless streamflows improve. Another 80 users in the Okanogan and Similkameen river watershed began calling the hotline June 23 and have stopped watering.

And about 260 users on the Methow, Colville and Little Spokane rivers will be asked to call their hotline beginning the week of June 29.

Contacts:

Joye Redfield-Wilder, communications, 509-575-2610; @ecyCentral