Drought, Irrigation Rationing Leading to Hard Choices for Growers

PULLMAN, Wash. — Drought conditions in Washington, especially irrigation rationing in the Yakima Valley, are leading to hard choices for area growers, according to two Washington State University Extension educators.

“We’re already seeing some crop shifting,” said Bob Stevens, extension soil scientist and interim director of WSU’s Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. “Some orchards already are being removed. Those growers may have been considering that option for awhile, but the lack of water is leading them to do it now.”

Gov. Christine Gregoire last month authorized a statewide drought emergency because of low snow pack statewide, and earlier this month the Bureau of Reclamation imposed rationing at 34 percent of normal on junior water rights holders in the Yakima Valley.

Stevens said many growers are looking at using their emergency wells to get through the season. “Most will try to spread the water they have over their most productive acres, and then do what they can to keep the others alive,” he said.

Jack Watson, extension chair for Benton County, agreed. And, he said, tree fruit growers also may be forced to look at different ways of distributing the irrigation water they do receive. “They will have to find a way of redistributing the water they do get, such as smaller pumps, smaller irrigation sets or have fewer going at a time,” he said.

Watson said that for the time being grape growers don’t need a lot of water. “Overall, water should be applied shortly after bud break when the fruit sets,” he said. “Another critical time is early summer during the cell expansion and growth stage.”

He said he is advising grape and tree fruit growers to “farm with moderation.”

“Don’t try to produce a large crop.”

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Sound Files

bobstevens01.mp3 (298 kb)

(18 sec.) “The irrigated growers…during the growing season.”

bobstevens02.mp3 (293 kb)

(18 sec.) “Treefruit growers will be…damage to them.”