DOE to deny water if they 'don't
by Becky Blanton, Editor of The Klickitat
Klickitat County, WA - 4/7/02 - Tom
Fitzsimmons may be making good on his alleged threat to deny water to
irrigators along the Columbia River if they didn't cooperate with his
department and drop a lawsuit against the Department of Ecology.
The (DOE) director announced last month that DOE may reduce water
supplies to about 200 irrigators this summer.
In January Fitzsimmons allegedly told
Columbia Snake River Irrigator Bud Mercer that he would cut off the
water to the irrigators if the Mercers didn't exclude their application
from the lawsuit.
Mercer applied for a water right that would give him about 8 gallons of
water per minute from the Columbia River, but the state has said he
couldn't use that water in July and August -- the height of the
The December lawsuit alleged irrigators would be injured by DOE s
action, or lack of action, on issuing water permits.
Klickitat County joined the Columbia
Snake River Irrigators Association (CSRIA) and the City of Pasco,
Washington in the lawsuit against DOE on Dec. 14, 2001, requesting
an injunction be issued against DOE s use of so-called flow targets when
issuing water permits.
Fitzsimmons is alleged to have made the threat to Mercer only days
before the court date regarding the suit.
Fitzsimmons threatened that if Mercer Ranches did not exclude its
application from the CSRIA litigation ... (DOE) would interfere with the
normal processing of Mercer's other water right issues," Kennewick
attorney Brian Iller wrote in a letter to Timothy O'Neill of the
Klickitat County Prosecutor's Office.
Whether Fitzsimmons is actually making
good on his alleged threat to the Columbia Snake River Irrigators or is
simply responding to a true water shortage remains to be seen. Klickitat
County investigators haven t completed their investigation of his
threats to the Mercers yet.
Fitzsimmon's latest announcement however
means that irrigators will have one more thing to worry about as the
DOE claims the projected Columbia River is expecting the lowest water
flows since 1977.
In a move reminiscent of the Klamath water basin issues of 2001, DOE is
planning to interrupt water rights that were issued between 1980 and
1992 with the condition the Columbia River meet minimum flow targets --
targets that many charge are based on flawed and inadequate science.
In essence, those rights are junior to the flow targets set in 1980 for
the river, meaning the Columbia gets water first.
Letters were sent to farmers and cities
along the Columbia by DOE warn that their irrigation water may be cut
off for at least a week at a time because of drought conditions across
And although farmers say they knew the river was down, the letters came
as a surprise.
Klickitat County isn't affected, but
Benton County, its neighbor to the east and the site of the County's
largest seasonal employer - Mercer Ranches, will be affected.
According to reports in The Tri-City Herald, Douglas County has the
largest number of water rights affected. Okanogan and Benton, have at
least 65 water rights that might be interrupted. Franklin County has 13
interruptible rights, and Grant has four. Altogether, the rights include
about 900 cubic feet per second of water, less than 1 percent of the
April 1 target flows at John Day Dam.
In a letter from water resources manager Bob Barwin for the
Ecology Department in Yakima, irrigators were told, Based on predicted
flows, you will be instructed whether you can divert water under your
water right during the following week. Please note that water use under
your water right will be curtailed for the entire week.
Depending on flows, irrigators in one region may be regulated while
others aren't. But the current situation, she said, "is a pretty
good guarantee that some people will be Crop damage in junior water
districts in the Yakima Valley, is already expected.
According to one irrigator, the Yakima Valley is expected to get 38 to
40 percent of normal water supply.
The Ecology Department, however, said it must take action because the
predicted river flows at The Dalles Dam during irrigation season are 56
million acre-feet, a little more than half of average. An acre-foot is
enough to cover an acre 12 inches deep. When spring flow predictions dip
below 60 million acre-feet, they prompt regulation under the Instream
Resources Protection Program of 1980.
Fitzsimmons can choose not to follow the state s rule that says only in
those situations when it is clear that overriding considerations of the
public interest will be served, but irrigators say it's not likely he'll
The Klickitat County Monitor