Irrigation02

A pump on the Skagit River is used to irrigate farms.

The Skagit Public Utility District is making water available to Skagit County farmers through the end of the month for emergency drought relief.

PUD commissioners voted Aug. 8 to transfer some of its water rights to irrigation districts 15 and 22 in southwest Skagit County, allowing the districts to pump water from the Skagit River for crop irrigation. The state Department of Ecology approved the transfer Aug. 9.

Jason Vander Kooy, a dairy farmer in district 15, said Wednesday the water will help about 10 farmers over 1,000 acres wrap up late-season irrigation.

“I would say 80% of crops are already finished off,” he said. “It’s just the late planted crops, potatoes and grasses, cucumbers and broccoli that still needed water.”

Vander Kooy approached the PUD earlier this month to ensure a water source for farmers after the irrigation districts had to shut off their pumps due to low Skagit River flows.

For part of July and all of August, the river flow was under 10,000 cubic feet per second, a minimum flow put in place to protect salmon habitat.

When minimum flows are not met, the districts, which have interruptible water rights, cannot pump water. The PUD has uninterruptible water rights.

Under the agreement, the PUD will through August divert 8.91 cubic feet per second of water to irrigation district 15, and 5.6 cubic feet per second of water to district 22.

The districts can pump for 12 hours a day, or for about 6 hours at a time, coinciding with two high tide cycles.

The agreement is similar to one approved during the 2015 drought to help farmers.

The water transfer is allowed under the state’s emergency drought declaration, which includes Skagit County.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, PUD commissioners spoke of the need to have a policy in place in advance.

“We really ought to have a policy in the water manual to address this in the future so it’s not an emergency,” Commissioner Eron Berg said.

Following the 2015 drought, the PUD and city of Anacortes began discussions on a permanent water rights transfer process.

No policies were approved.

“We’re pretty tight in being able to do (emergency water transfers),” PUD General Manager George Sidhu said at the Aug. 8 meeting. “And as time goes on, it will be harder and harder. A permanent solution will be necessary.”

While PUD water is temporarily diverted to the irrigation districts, the PUD will supplement its supply through interconnections with the city of Anacortes water system, according to a Friday news release from the PUD.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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