Prior to the recent heat wave that gripped most of the country, many areas have seen higher than normal levels of rain and, in some places, flooding. That has not been the case for Washington State which continues to deal with dry conditions. Recent months (March through May) have seen little precipitation and is tied for the 13th driest on record for the state since 1895. Under advisement of the Department of Ecology, Governor Jay Inslee increased the size of the state’s drought emergency to include 27 watersheds.
In response to the dry conditions, some irrigation water districts plan to shut water off in mid-September which will greatly impact farmers in the area, forcing them to consider other options as their growing seasons often continue into the fall. Furthermore, the lack of water can affect crops for the coming year. To combat the situation, some are drilling drought relief wells, but this is not a solution for everyone. Tom Tebb, regional director of the state Department of Ecology, explained that farmers have to meet strenuous requirements to obtain a permit prior to drilling a well, and that “farmers must be facing an allocation of no more than 70 percent and show the hardship it would cause to go without additional water.” Water rights also play a role in permitting as the state follows the principle of “prior appropriation,” which, according to the Department of Ecology’s website, means that “the first users have rights senior to those issued later. If a water shortage occurs, senior rights are satisfied first and the junior right holders can be curtailed.”
Without a change in current conditions the water year will be cut short for many of the state’s growers. Whether it’s drought relief wells or some other method, finding the necessary water continues to challenge everyone. Until solutions can be found, rationing and prioritizing will have to suffice.
 Ferolito, Phil, and Yakima Herald-Republic. “Some Farmers Plan to Tap Drought Relief Wells If Surface Water Supply Runs Short.” Yakima Herald-Republic, 3 July 2019, www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/some-farmers-plan-to-tap-drought-relief-wells-if-surface/article_d872d90d-046b-5fe1-b493-8cb8c6487599.html.
Photo Credit: David Herrera, Flickr