Measure Water Use, Irrigators Ordered
Published in the Herald-Republic on Wednesday, April 3, 2002
By TOM ROEDER
The state Department of Ecology will order scores of Yakima Valley irrigators to measure and report how much water they use.
Under a move announced Tuesday, the agency will require the biggest users of well and river water to file periodic reports starting in June, marking the first time the agency has monitored how much water is being used.
The move affects about 1,000 water users statewide, ranging from cities and irrigation districts to individual farms, said agency spokesman Curt Hart. Orders to irrigators in the Wenatchee and Methow valleys were issued this week.
In the Yakima Valley, the biggest consumers of water from the Yakima and Naches rivers will have to measure how much water they use and report it to the state. But the state isn't expected to order the measurements and reports until at least June.
Measuring water use is nothing new in the Yakima Valley.
"We've been doing that generally," said Don Schramm, with the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District. "We have excellent measurement and reporting. It will just be adding someone else to the mailing list."
The only thing new for Schramm and other water users is the requirement that they report their use to the Department of Ecology. The numbers already go to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls most irrigation in the region.
A law requiring the state to monitor water use has been on the books since 1993. But the Department of Ecology didn't follow the law until last year, when a lawsuit by environmental and wildlife groups forced its hand.
"We had environmental groups telling us that we weren't complying with our own laws on measuring water use," Hart said. "This brings us into compliance with our own laws."
Most of the reporting in the Yakima Valley will be done by irrigation districts, which consume about 80 percent of the water pulled from the Yakima River.
The purpose of the monitoring is to see just how much water is being taken from watersheds that are home to threatened species of fish, including the steelhead and bull trout of the Yakima River drainage.
Irrigators without equipment to measure water consumption can even get help to comply with the Department of Ecology order. The agency has $3.4 million in grant money to help water users buy and calibrate water-measuring devices, which generally cost around $2,500.
"There's always some room for improvement," Schramm said. "There may be some smaller entities that need to upgrade their measurement tools."
Information on the grant program can be found at the Department of Ecology's Web site, www.ecy.wa.gov.
The one thing the agency hasn't figured out is what to do with the measurement information once water users send it in.
"Most people won't give us data until the end of this year," Hart said. "It will take a year or more to see trends. We'll have to make a determination of what's next when we have that data in hand."
One thing the information will be used for, Hart said, is to figure out how much water is being pulled from rivers without state permits. The state will know how much water is being used legally, so the math will ferret out water thieves.
"It would deter illegal water use," Hart said. "It will help everyone better manage the water supply."
Reporter Tom Roeder can be
reached by phone at 577-7671, or by e-mail at troeder@yakima-
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