Kittitas Reclamation District charged up its canal system far earlier than usual and upped water allotments to 5 acre-feet per acre for farmers.

“That is only the second time that I’ve been able to find that we’ve had water running in the canal on (April 1) in the history of the KRD,” said Urban Eberhart, KRD manager. “This really is something new and something unusual that folks might not be quite used to.”

Typically KRD begins running water through its canals around April 20, but has a floodwater right that begins April 1.

On Tuesday, the KRD approved upping water allotments by .5 acre-feet per acre to encourage farmers to use water early in the irrigation season. The change takes it from 4.5 to 5 acre-feet an acre.

By upping the water allotments and watering the canal early, farmers in some of the driest areas of the county can get a head start on watering their fields, he said.

“When you get out into the Badger Pocket area, things are pretty dry,” he said. “If you go out into the south east and the south, you’re out in the desert up against the (Yakima) Training Center.”

Water available early

Eberhart said that in the future during good water years, the hope is to have water available this early more often.

Not only does it immediately help KRD farmers get water on their fields early, but it also will help with water supplies later in the summer.

Getting water out early helps meet some goals of the Yakima Basin integrated water management plan, he said.

By spreading the water out earlier in the year, it helps create more groundwater storage throughout the valley.

Today, the basin’s five reservoirs are nearly 85 percent full and can’t hold all of the snowmelt.

“That water would just go out the Yakima, out the Columbia and out to the ocean and be lost,” he said.

Instead of floodwater from the mountains going out to the ocean, it will be stored as groundwater.

Over the coming months, that water will slowly make its way back to the Yakima River and be available for irrigators down stream.

“That will have a direct correlation on the amount of water that will need to be released from the reservoirs during storage control,” he said.

The Yakima River basin only has enough storage for 1 million acre feet of water while irrigators actually use 2.5 million acre feet.

Climate change models show that in the coming years, spring will come sooner and the snowpack will melt earlier than it has historically, he said.

The groundwater solution is one of the ways the Yakima Basin integrated plan addresses the changes.

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