Washington Farmers May Lose Water Rights

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Saturday, March 31, 2001 Washington Farmers May Lose Water Rights

From Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash.--This year's drought is so severe that, for the first time ever, the state is warning some 300 Columbia River irrigators that they may lose their rights to the river's water for up to 10 weeks this summer. However, the state Department of Ecology is floating a proposal that would give farmers at least some water this year. "It won't make farmers whole," warned Mary Getchell, an Ecology Department spokeswoman. But it may be enough to keep fruit trees alive in the withering central Washington sun. In 1980, the state adopted rules requiring that the Columbia's water flow be at least 60 million acre-feet measured on April 1 each year at the Dalles Dam. People who were issued water rights after 1980 agreed that if that target is not met, they would lose their claim to the water. "Guess what? That day is here," Getchell said Friday. For the first time since those rules were adopted, the river will be well below that level on April 1, which is Sunday. The most recent forecasts from the National Weather Service predict the Columbia may fall to as low as 52 million acre-feet. The lowest flow ever recorded in the Columbia was 51 million acre-feet, in 1977. The Ecology Department is proposing to modify its rules, reducing the required 60 million acre-feet water flow by 23%--or to 46.2 million acre-feet--before water rights are cut off. Even under the new proposal, water probably would only be available until April 15. Then about 300 water users, most of them farmers, would lose water for seven to 10 weeks between April and August, Getchell said. Holders of rights from before 1980 would still get their water. Loss of water for more than two months is too long for fruit trees to survive in summer heat, said Nick Fox, a Stemilt Creek farmer and board member for the Stemilt Creek Irrigation District. "This is not a plan for orchards," Fox told the Wenatchee World. "If you go seven weeks in the middle of summer with no water, you aren't going to have a single living tree." Since it takes several years for new trees to bear fruit, the crisis would be a major blow to an apple industry already suffering from low prices. Environmentalists are arguing against any change, saying the people who accepted the interruptible water rights must simply bite the bullet. "The state is clearly making a choice against the environment," said Kristie Carevich of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Ecology Department Director Tom Fitzsimmons will decide next week whether to allow the lower flows, after reviewing public comments and talking with Gov. Gary Locke and other state officials. In the meantime, the Ecology Department and other state agencies are trying to buy water to ensure that orchards, vineyards and fish survive the summer.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 31, 2001


Fist we'll deregulate, then we'll weather manipulate and then we'll confenscate.....

I know I can't spell but it doesnt really bother me...you get the pitcher.

-- NdewTyme (NdewTyme@NdewT.com), April 01, 2001.

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