Washington Lawmakers Want Water Conservation for Irrigators

Last week, more than 40 Washington State Senate and House members sent letters to Gov. Christine Gregoire, urging her to support the immediate implementation of the Water Conservation Operation & Maintenance Program, which would allow irrigators to use seasonal water conservation measures such as irrigation scheduling, moisture and soil monitoring, and weather and crop monitoring, according to a press release from the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association.

In the letters, the lawmakers state that "Encouraging water conservation through equitable allocation of the saved water is a cornerstone of the Columbia River Basin Water Management Law (RCW 90.90) ... We are very concerned that conservation implementation under RCW 90.90 to secure new irrigation need not be delayed further." According to Conservation District water managers, the program would reduce real-time water withdrawals by about 17 percent.

According to the press release, the program would

  • allow half (8.5 percent) of the water savings to be used for new or additional irrigated agriculture water uses while the other half would be left in the river to help instream flows;
  • . immediately help the rural economy in Washington;
  • help to avoid new conflicts over Columbia-Snake River Water Management and would provide some relief to the current system of Water Right Changes/Transfers; and
  • ensure that the water conservation provisions of the 2006 Columbia River Water Management Program work and are used equitably to support both additional agricultural irrigation and instream flow.;

The letters to the governor state: "The irrigator's ability to fund their own program and produce new household income for our constituents during this recession is exactly the type of activity we must promote ... We call for your personal support of the Conservation O&M Program and request that you will direct your agency staff to work with the Irrigators to initiate it in 2010."

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association promotes water conservation and water efficiency in the Pacific Northwest. The association includes row crop, vineyard, orchard, and livestock operations and irrigates about 250,000 acres of prime agricultural lands in Washington. Its operations along the Columbia-Snake River system rely almost exclusively on private investment to build and operate highly efficient, state-of-the-art river pump stations and water distribution systems.