SUNNYSIDE — In March, the water outlook was positive at 90 percent, but it has since declined to 67 percent.
For junior water rights holders like Roza Irrigation District, the conditions mean restricting water deliveries and being creative to ensure not all irrigators suffer a complete loss of crops.
“There will be damage,” Roza Manager Scott Revell said, noting the loss won’t, however, be as significant as it was four years ago.
The 2015 drought resulted in a $77 million loss to local farmers due to reduced quality and lower yields, he said.
“Growers are sacrificing lower value crops,” Revell said, explaining there are a lot of growers who are keeping open ground and borrowing from neighbors where necessary to ensure higher value crops are able to produce.
Grapes are an example of one of the region’s higher value crops that are easily sustainable. Revell said the crops are triple irrigated and require less water compared to apples or hops.
“So, many have internal flexibilities in place,” he said.
Driving around the Yakima Valley, one might see piled up trees, but Revell said those piles are part of a normal rotation.
Growers might be holding off the purchase of new trees, or if they’ve already purchased new grape vines or trees, they may have been planted.
“Baby grapes and apple trees use very little water,” Revell said.
Additional steps being taken to stave off issues associated with less water availability, Revell said, include emergency water wells being built.
He said the irrigation district will also likely cut off water supply a couple weeks earlier than normal this year.
“Water conservation never really ends,” Revell said, noting the irrigation district has been taking steps in preparation for years when the supply is less than ideal — piping and sealing canals throughout the system.
The newly constructed reservoir north of Sunnyside has also helped provide water supplies remain more efficient, he said.