The Skagit Public Utility District Board of Commissioners discussed options Tuesday to provide water for farm irrigation during the summer months.
One option is a seasonal water rights transfer to Drainage and Irrigation District 15 (West Mount Vernon) and Consolidated Diking Improvement District 22 (Fir Island).
PUD General Manager George Sidhu told commissioners Tuesday the idea is to allow the districts — on a temporary and seasonal basis — to use some of the PUD’s water rights to pump water from the Skagit River when the river falls below minimum in-stream flows.
“It would allow them to pump on those days when the river was below minimum in-stream flows,” he said.
The in-stream flow rule mandates a minimum flow to protect salmon and fish habitat. When the river falls below minimum flows, those with junior water rights (such as the irrigation districts) must shut off their pumps.
Sidhu said the PUD transferred some of its water rights in 2015 and 2019 to districts 15 and 22 following a drought declaration by Gov. Jay Inslee.
He said the PUD is looking at options to provide water to farmers when there is no drought declaration in place.
Sidhu said before the PUD can move forward with a seasonal water rights transfer, districts would need to install metering and telemetry on their pumps to track water use.
In a memo to commissioners, Sidhu wrote that the PUD would like to see districts purchase and install the new technology by May 1.
The PUD board would need to approve any seasonal water rights transfer.
Sidhu said the PUD is also looking at options to provide piped water to help farmers irrigate their crops. In that scenario, farmers would become PUD customers.
The PUD is working with Jenna Friebel, executive director of the Skagit County Drainage and Irrigation Districts Consortium, to map locations where piped water could be used for irrigation.
“I think having the PUD as part of the long-term water supply solution is really important,” Friebel said.
PUD Commissioner Andrew Miller said some growers he has spoken with have changed their minds on the issue of using piped water.
“The idea of using piped water for agricultural proposes is becoming more a part of business plans for different sized growers,” he said.
Sidhu said there is also a May 1 deadline for the PUD to make progress on providing piped water.
“If the above issues are not resolved prior to May 1, it is very likely that the seasonal transfer could not be completed within the irrigation season for 2021,” he wrote in the memo.
Sidhu said he plans to have a proposal for the PUD board to vote on at its April 27 meeting.