Article submitted to the Ellensburg Daily Record September 2013
Local Water Quality Control-KCWP Goal
For the past 14 years, the Kittitas County Water Purveyors (KCWP)
have provided key evidence of--and plenty of support for--water
quality improvements throughout Kittitas County. The non-profit
consortium, comprised of the major irrigation districts and some
individual creek-rights users, strives to keep local control over
clean water issues through water testing and problem solving. In
a nutshell, the KCWP aims to find water quality problems and solve
them before the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)
or the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) become involved.
Progress! Monthly averages are generally trending downward, steadily
growing closer to meeting State Standards. Typically, turbidity
values (the amount of dirt in the water) should be under 12 NTU.
From the irrigation districts' perspectives, the KCWP provides the
invaluable service of monitoring tail-end spills to make sure the
water is in compliance with state regulations, acting as a liaison
between Ecology and district managers, and helping district staff
deal with excessively dirty incoming flows to their canals.
From the landowners' and irrigators' perspectives, the KCWP is also
an extremely good value. Fifty cents per acre, the self-assessed
rate of the districts paid by the landowners, helps keep control
of water issues in the hands of people who know the local waterways
and understand irrigation issues. The assessment is also used as
"match" for grants that the KCWP can apply for on behalf
of landowners. Since 2000, the assessment rate has not increased,
although the KCWP must increase rates in the next year or so to
remain in existence.
Kittitas County, and especially the Kittitas Valley, exhibits a
non-standard hydrograph. our area is uncommon in that streams merge
and separate repeatedly, are intersected with irrigation infrastructure
(sometimes with connectivity, and other times without), and borrow
ditches are comingled with both streams and irrigation water. For
someone from the outside, it can be nearly impossible to tell which
kind of waterway is which. Some water quality standards vary for
the various types and locations of waterways, so it's imperative
to correctly identify each type of waterway in each instance.
Borrow Ditch, Creek, or Irrigation Canal?
Half the battle when dealing with dirty water is identifying the
type of waterway, and the other half is identifying where that water
is coming from. Generally speaking, irrigators react rapidly and
readily when a problem is brought to their attention. This willingness
to problem-solve and the rapidity with which improvements can happen
are the main reasons Ecology allows us the level of self-control
we currently enjoy in our county.
The biggest challenge to meeting water quality standards for turbidity
in Kittitas County is improper control of water when using furrow
or rill irrigation. Improperly managed fields lead to sediment washing
off the fields and into nearby waterways. However, when properly
utilized, this type of irrigation method is extremely beneficial
to stream temperatures, and unlike sprinklers, doesn't require the
use of electricity to run pumps. About 40% of the irrigated cropland
in the county is now served by sprinklers and is therefore less
likely to contribute to sediment issues. Many more landowners have
applied for funding assistance through the Kittitas County Conservation
District (KCCD) to upgrade their irrigation systems as soon as possible.
According to Anna Lael at the KCCD, 60 individual projects are on
the list, which would increase the number of sprinkled acres by
3,800 acres. The KCCD is working on a new funding source for sprinkler
conversions. Growers interested in converting to sprinklers who
have not already contacted Mark Crowley at the KCCD, should do so
to have their project added to the database.
An additional problem is sediment deposited in waterways, primarily
during storm events and throughout the course of winter. When districts
"turn on" each spring, all the loose dirt washed off roads
and other impermeable surfaces into the canals is re-suspended,
and the same thing happens to an even stronger degree during major
flood events. The increasing frequency of these events leads to
more frequent spikes of extremely dirty water. Seldom do dirty return
flows occur off fields during major rain events, as the soils tend
to absorb the moisture, filter the dirt out, and return clean water
to the streams though sub-surface means.
The Yakima River suffers from the same fate as the creeks do during
spring storms. Interestingly, a few times during the past several
years Wilson Creek has actually been cleaner than the river in the
spring, providing possible refuge for salmonid species. Ultimately,
the KCWP wants to have all streams, canals, and the Yakima River
meeting standards as soon as possible.
Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), are required by the federal Clean
Water Act when any waters don't meet state water quality standards.
The KCWP works with Ecology during the development and implementation
of these TMDL plans. Currently there are two TMDLs in place--one
for sediment and pesticides in the Upper Yakima River Watershed
(which includes the waterways of Kittitas County), and one for specific
types of bacteria in the Wilson Creek Sub-basin. A third TMDL dealing
with water temperature will soon be released by Ecology for comments.
The tailend of Packwood Ditch provides clean and cool irrigation
return flow to the Yakima River
The KCWP faces many challenges on behalf of area landowners, irrigators,
and producers. Hopefully, funding will be forthcoming to allow us
to continue to do so.
Next General Meeting:
Tuesday, November 13, 2013
1:00 pm at the KRD office
None currently scheduled
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