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Water leases sought for state drought relief

The Department of Ecology is offering to lease irrigation water from senior water-right holders so that junior water-right holders in the Yakima Valley facing cutoffs this year will still have water for drinking, flushing toilets and other domestic uses.

In addition, the leased water may be used to improve flows for fish and to offset some of the effects of transferring water diversions to new locations during the drought emergency.

Water supply forecasters predict this summer's irrigation supply will be 34 percent of normal for Yakima Basin Project irrigators with junior water rights. If it does not rain this spring, junior irrigators could receive as little as 14 percent of the water they normally are allocated.

Surface water-right holders with post May 10, 1905 rights can be cut off when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation mandates rationing among junior irrigation districts. Among those facing curtailment are about 100 domestic and municipal water users whose sources of water are rivers or springs. Ecology officials said the city of Roslyn is among the 100 or so users that are affected, but so far Roslyn has secured a water-right transfer to covers its needs. Others, though, are in limbo.

"We want to help people with homes, cabins and summer camps get the water they need to meet basic human health and safety needs," said Ecology Director Jay Manning.

"Droughts like this reinforce our need to use water wisely while also seeking longer-term solutions, such as more water storage," Manning added.

The Department of Ecology has set up a mechanism for qualified senior water-right holders to make a bid to lease their water to the state for the 2005 irrigation season. Qualifying water right holders must have a May 10, 1905 priority date or earlier, and must have been awarded a final water right from the Yakima River adjudication court, also known as a conditional final order. The water right holder's "purpose of use" must include irrigation, and the point where the water is diverted must be upstream from the Sunnyside Canal diversion near Parker. A minimum offer of 10 acres of irrigated land will be considered, and the land would have to not be irrigated through the end of the 2005 season.

Interested parties can contact the Department of Ecology by phone at (509) 575-2597, or in person at 15 W. Yakima Ave., Suite 200, Yakima.

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