The state is warning 44 farmers and residents along the Colville River that they’ll soon have to stop watering, unless the weather turns unexpectedly rainy.
The Washington Department of Ecology is sending out “heads-up” letters to the water-rights holders because the Stevens County river’s flow has dropped to a point that requires a water shut-off, according to a department news release.
Farmer George Knight, who lives just outside Colville, said he hadn’t yet received a letter. But he said he hopes one doesn’t arrive for at least seven days, so he can finish watering his 90-acre alfalfa field.
“If I had to shut it off today, it would cost me about a third of my third crop, which is about $8,000,” he said.
At this time of year, most farmers in his area are close to finished watering their crops, which range from alfalfa to hay, Knight said.
“I don’t think it’s a disaster for anybody,” he said.
Other residents use water from the Colville River and its tributaries for watering their lawns and gardens. Peter Sliman, who uses river water to irrigate his 5-acre lawn about two miles from Colville, said the letter he’ll soon receive is “kind of a nonissue for me.”
However, mid-August is slightly early for such a warning, Sliman said. Usually, talk about restricting water use doesn’t start until late in the month.
In the 30 years since the Department of Ecology set a minimum river flow, irrigators have been restricted only once before, in 2005. The limit is 33 cubic feet – or about 247 gallons – per second, according to the news release. That’s the level at which the Colville River is now flowing, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station at Kettle Falls. The river this year is flowing at less than half of normal.
The problem is as obvious as the blue sky: Precipitation for the year is far below normal, and July continued that trend. Halfway into August, only a trace of rain has been reported by the National Weather Service at Spokane International Airport.
“This is yet another tough year for outdoor irrigators,” John Covert, a Department of Ecology hydrogeologist, said in the release.