WENATCHEE — Chelan County PUD has made an agreement with the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District (OTID) to lease 4,000 acre-feet of irrigation water annually for $1 million a year from an Okanogan County water bank.
According to Derek Mendoza, OTID manager, the district has not been using its full water right because the pressurized system is more efficient than the old canal system and the pressurized system is designed to only move so much volume. This is borne out by the irrigation district’s annual reports to the Washington State Department of Ecology.
“Since the district hasn’t been using the full water right, we were going to lose that excess available amount. Thankfully, the board of directors and former manager, Jay O’Brien, were pro-active and created the water bank to save our currently unused water for potential future needs,” said Mendoza. “This excess water is now protected from relinquishment.”
Unused water will now be leased to down stream users, however, not all of the irrigation district’s excess water was leased to Chelan County PUD, according to Mendoza. The money Chelan County PUD pays to the irrigation district will be used to make repairs to the district’s aging water system, he said
“The board of directors have decided to keep a portion to be available for lease to our closer neighbors in Okanogan County if needed. This is a win-win for Okanogan county and all parties involved.”
One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field, one foot deep, according to the Water Education Foundation.
Chelan County PUD Commissioners approved the lease for mitigation at their Monday, April 16 board meeting. The agreement can be terminated by the PUD at any time.
Marcie Clement, Chelan County PUD Water Resource Program Manager told the board that the reason for the agreement with Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District is that Chelan PUD has three longterm Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses and within those licenses the PUD will need to be able to continue to meet their current and future license obligations, often with water.
“Without water we would be unable to do the things we do,” Clement said, adding, “Also, to be able to fulfill our district mission and vision it is important for us to be able to adapt to climate change which may include more variability over the years. We’ve seen it already in the past 10-year period. And, when there’s a shortage of water that impacts our junior water rights with senior water rights having priority over them.”
She said the agreement will help the PUD to retain flexibility in the future for opportunities. The agreement provides future flexibility for hatcheries, parks, water systems and power generation.
“With a FERC license that long there are all sorts of things that may come up. Our objectives for Chelan County PUD are to protect and enhance the district’s assets. And, to protect the quality of life for Chelan County and to protect the municipal supply, parks and our ability to meet our FERC recreation obligations. And, not lastly at all, to protect the district’s ability to meet all the FERC obligation to ensure that our power is reliable,” said Clement.
G-T reporter Laura Knowlton contribited to this article