Reducing Washington State Drought Impacts in the Okanogan River Basin

In both the northern reaches, high desert region, and even the Olympic Peninsula—literally one of the wettest places in the lower 48 states historically—summer 2019 is a serious drought year in Washington State. Earlier this spring, the governor declared a drought emergency, which was able to unlock emergency relief options and funding for 27 watersheds across the entire state. In the Methow, Okanogan, and upper Yakima River watersheds, it’s particularly bad. Based on current forecasting, the Okanogan is expected to be at 58 percent of normal, and curtailment notification letters have already been sent to local water users. However, this drastic forecast has prompted forward thinking. 

In partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District (OTID) has developed a “water bank” in the Okanogan River basin to help regional water users impacted by the drought. The water bank will be used to support instream flows and to assist “junior” water users during periods of curtailment. OTID is seeding the bank with two of its senior water rights. In 2018, Ecology, with assistance from Aspect, certified these water rights through the state’s Certified Water Right Examiner process. 

Ecology is working to complete the required permitting to place the water rights in the state’s Trust Water Right Program (TWRP) to create the water bank (read more about water banks on Ecology’s website). This water bank will be seeded with about 7,500 acre feet of water, which will be made available for drought relief. From this bank, eligible water users can “withdraw” water for both irrigation and municipal or domestic uses.

 More information can be found at the following website:

https://www.aspectconsulting.com/otidwaterbank

Aspect Talks Reclaimed Water, ASR, and Walla Walla Basin at 2019 AWWA

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Andrew Austreng, Jon Turk, and John Warinner will be presenting Thursday and Friday May 2 and 3rd at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) ‘River Runs Through It’ 2019 Section Conference in Vancouver, WA. Andrew will present on the Othello, WA Aquifer Storage and Recovery project; Jon Turn will showcase groundwater recharge strategies for a unique project involving reclaimed water in Kitsap County; and John Warinner will discuss challenges and opportunities of managing groundwater across two state lines in the Walla Walla subbasin.

The annual AWWA conference is one of the largest conferences for water professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

Next Step in Icicle Creek Basin Solution – June 27 Public Hearing in Leavenworth

Taking the next step in a process that began in 2012, Chelan County and the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)  have released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Icicle Creek Water Resource Management Strategy (Icicle Strategy). The Draft PEIS will be summarized and discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday, June 27 from 4pm to 8pm at Leavenworth Festhalle, 1001 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA. The PEIS evaluates five alternatives to help the Icicle Work Group (IWG) map out a solution for instream flow, tribal, agricultural, domestic, and recreational water needs for the Icicle Creek Subbasin in central Washington.

See Chelan County’s Icicle Strategy website for more information. Aspect has helped coordinate the development of the PEIS, along with multiple teaming partners and co-leads Chelan County and Ecology.

Possible Solutions for the Future of Icicle Creek Basin Water Resources

The 200-square-mile Icicle Creek basin in central Washington is the heart of the region’s agricultural, fisheries, and outdoor recreation resources. For years, the competing demands of stakeholders has resulted in a critical need to improve the basin’s conditions to reliably supply water to a variety of concerned groups.  Mike Kaputa, Director of Chelan County’s Natural Resources Department, recently wrote an in-depth article for The Water Report covering the complex web of conflicts and possible emerging solutions for this highly scrutinized water basin. Read the article HERE

Reducing Power Costs, Conserving Water, and Increasing Crop through On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency

Thanks to bountiful hydropower electricity, residents of North Central Washington benefit from some of the lowest power rates and live in one of the best fruit-growing regions in the United States. Successful fruit growers in the region are constantly pushing the envelope to reinvest in their crops and rediscover ways to economically maximize yield. Because regional power rates are so low, an often-overlooked opportunity for growers is optimizing pumping-related power costs. 

Power use can be a key tool to uncover significant cost savings and opportunities to gain water, and thus potentially expand fruit operations. Discussed in detail below, performing a power use analysis and implementing infrastructure efficiency improvements could potentially save a grower tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs and reduce water use by hundreds of acre-feet. In some cases, water saved can be used to expand orchard operations or be sold for profit. 

As this hypothetical apple farm scenario shows, a power and water audit has the potential for growers to identify opportunities to reduce power costs and save water at the same time

What Drives Pumping Energy Use?

Pressure and flow are the two primary factors that go into pump power costs, but there are other factors to consider. For example, the age and quality of pumps and motors influences their operating efficiency. A premium-efficiency motor may operate above 90 percent efficiency, whereas an older motor that hasn’t been rewound in a while may be only be 80 percent efficient (or even lower). Pumps have a range of efficiency also. A new properly sized pump operating at its best efficiency point could provide 80% efficiency. An older pump with worn impellers might provide efficiencies of 70 percent or less. 

Pumps operate most efficiently within a narrow range of flows, and efficiencies decrease rapidly when asked to operate outside that range. For example, a pump that was sized to deliver 500 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 percent efficiency may only perform at 70 percent efficiency when operating at 400 gpm. 

Water Savings in Piping and Sprinkler Upgrades

Piped conveyance systems also contribute to overall system efficiency. Not only can hydraulic problems result in wasted energy, but losses and leakage can result in wasted flow. While 10 percent leakage in pipes is common (and acceptable), improving to a 5 percent leakage rate is achievable—and tremendously valuable. 

Finally, watering application efficiency (i.e., emitter type) can contribute dramatically to the total power bill. For example, a traditional impact sprinkler may be 75 percent efficient, while low-volume sprinklers may be 85 to 90 percent efficient. 

Impact Sprinkler (75 percent efficient)

Impact Sprinkler (75 percent efficient)

Low-volume Emitter Sprinkler (90 percent efficient)

Low-volume Emitter Sprinkler (90 percent efficient)

How to Save a Tree Fruit Grower $20,000 and 440 acre-feet of Water

Clearly, there are many opportunities to tighten up the “wire-to-water”, or in this case “wire-to-fruit,” efficiency. To help illustrate potential savings, consider a ranch with 500 acres of apples in North Central Washington. Hypothetically, the crops alone could take as much as 3.5 acre-feet of water per year. In this case, let’s assume that the irrigation method is with solid set over-tree impact sprinklers fed off an older series pump with an overall lift of 450 feet and an annual energy cost of approximately $57,000 (Current System; Table 1). Compare this to an optimized system with a premium-efficiency motor, properly-sized pump, limited leakage, and efficient emitters (Optimized System; Table 1).

We find that the estimated pump-related power costs could be reduced by one third—about $20,000 in savings! This is due both to a lower water volume being pumped and better efficiencies of the pumps and motors. While there are certainly valuable applications for running over-tree watering applications (e.g., cooling), innovative practices such as installing shade cloth can help mitigate burning effects on fruit in lieu of sprinklers.  The cost of making that conversion could be justifiable if the benefit includes significant power or water savings.

What to do with the Surplus Water? 

In this example, not only has the grower now saved considerable expense related to power costs, but has also managed to save 440-acre feet of water. In water markets, the consumptive use savings have the highest value; and in this instance, approximately 170-acre feet of the water saved is considered consumptive use. Assuming this water is associated with a perfected (certificated) water right, there are a number of ways this grower could benefit:

  • Market the water and transfer through a transaction (note: current value of water is in the $2,500 per acre-foot range). 
  • Spread the water and plant additional acreage.
  • Protect the water for future use through temporary trust donation (relinquishment protection).
  • Seed a water bank for use in other locations. 

Optimizing Your System Makes Sense from Many Perspectives

There is considerable value in looking at ways to better optimize your power and water use. Financial savings can come in the form of lower energy bills simply by modernizing and properly maintaining your system. However, the rewards of conserving water are not limited to lower power bills. In many cases, it is important to consider the market potential of water savings also. The first step to any of this is a power and water use analysis in consultation with a water resources professional.  
 

Aspect Helps Kittitas County Offer 'Over-the-Counter' Water Rights

Aspect has been assisting Kittitas County with implementation of their water bank. The newest feature is a general permit that allows the County to cover non-exempt uses in a streamlined manner through issuance of mitigation certificates, similar to their over-the-counter approach for exempt well mitigation.  This allows property owners to continue to interface in a streamlined and coordinated manner with Kittitas County instead of seeking one-on-one solutions with Ecology, that would be more time-consuming and expensive.  This is another example of how Aspect continues to assist counties with innovative solutions to Hirst-related issues

Check out this article by The Daily Record News for more detail!

The Story of Washington State's Water Future

Aspect Consulting partnered with Washington State University, the University of Utah, and Ecology’s Office of Columbia River to develop the 2016 Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast.  From climate change to crop change, from municipal growth to hydropower demand, from water banking to declining groundwater, this report tells the story of how Washington is changing in response to a myriad of physical, economic, and legal challenges facing the State.  Over 2 years in the making, the report represents a comprehensive look at where Washington is going in the next 20 years and beyond.

Aspect Presenting on Topics Ranging from Hydrology and Water Rights to Water Supply and Demand Projections at Water Rights Transfers Seminar

Aspect’s Dan Haller and Tyson Carlson will be presenting at The Seminar Group’s 9th annual Water Rights Transfers seminar. On November 9th, Tyson will be presenting during the Hydrology And Water Rights portion of the seminar. He will be discussing approaches used to determine same body of public groundwater; groundwater – surface water continuity; potential impairment and water availability; and mitigation suitability.

The next day, Dan will join a panel to discuss the 2016 Water Supply and Demand Forecast. The group will present on the new supply/demand projections through 2035; water banking inventory; and economic evaluation on how the cost of water is affecting water supply development.

Learn more about the seminar HERE.

Landmark Hirst Water Rights Decision Increases Burden on Counties to Evaluate Exempt Well Impacts

In a landmark decision on the use of exempt wells and county responsibility for evaluating impacts from the wells on instream flows, the Washington Supreme Court (Court) recently overturned a lower court decision in the Whatcom County v. Hirst case.  The lower court decision appealed in this case essentially directed local governments to follow the Washington Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) interpretation of instream flow rules in determining water availability. This Court decision rescinds that direction, noting that the Growth Management Act (GMA) places an independent responsibility to ensure water availability on counties, not on Ecology.  The decision also noted that the fact that county provisions are wholly consistent with Ecology’s regulations does not, by itself, render them consistent with GMA requirements.

The Ruling Constrains Exempt Well Use in Washington

Under existing law (RCW 90.44.050), the groundwater permit exemption allows, for a limited number of purposes, water users to construct and develop groundwater wells for small quantities of groundwater without obtaining a permit.  According to the new ruling, there is no question that a permit-exempt well may not infringe on an earlier established right to water, including instream flow rules, under the doctrine of prior appropriation.  The Court also found it contradictory that Ecology must consider the effect of groundwater appropriations on minimum flows when issuing water right permits, while counties did not consider these same impacts when issuing building permits with exempt wells.  This means that in a basin with adopted minimum instream flows, any new exempt well or exempt well drilled after adoption of flows may be subject to interruption when flows are not met, rendering these wells legally unreliable as a continuous domestic water source.

The Ruling Increases County Responsibility for Water Availability Determinations under GMA

In addition, this ruling imposes a strict standard for county review of cumulative impairment from exempt wells due to rural development.  Aspect has been working with Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille Counties to establish a water bank for the Little Spokane River watershed.  A water bank is a mechanism that facilitates transfer of water rights between sellers and buyers through use of the state’s trust water right program, using banked water as mitigation for new water uses. The three counties anticipated that use of unmitigated exempt wells would continue to be more restricted in the state and proceeded with water bank development to proactively address this concern, along with addressing other future water needs in the basin. The recent ruling in Whatcom County v. Hirst only increases the need for local jurisdictions to be directly involved with proactive water resource management.

Eastern Washington's Water Future in the News

The just released Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast is gathering the attention of the news media. National Public Radio interviewed Aspect’s Dan Haller as part of their coverage. For the last two years, Aspect has worked on the research team alongside Washington State University and the University of Utah to forecast how regional environmental and economic conditions will affect water supply and demand through 2035. The report is now open for public comment through July 20. The final version will go the state legislature in the fall to help steer sound water goals and policy for eastern Washington.

Hear and read the interview here: More Water For Eastern Washington, But Not When Its Needed Most