The warm, dry spring has caused an emergency for some Skagit Valley farmers who have lost their water supply from the Skagit River as river levels drop. But, the city of Anacortes has agreed to help out.
A representative of two dike/irrigation districts, one west of Mount Vernon, the other on Fir Island, told the Anacortes City Council Monday night that “some plants may have passed their critical time, but we don’t think so.”
Brandon Roozen, with the Western Washington Agriculture Association, said that, “Now is a critical time for a lot of crops.”
Farms irrigated in districts 15 and 22 have junior rights to Skagit River water and that water was turned off on June 1 because of low river flow. The two districts got a brief reprieve last week when the Skagit PUD supplied 13 million gallons of water under a temporary transfer authorized by the state Department of Ecology.
Now, in response to the emergency request, Anacortes has agreed to step in and try to help. The City Council on Monday night agreed to supply water though the summer if Ecology agrees.
Under the plan, the city would transfer 20 cfs (cubic feet per second) of its water rights to the two irrigation districts. As explained at the meeting, the city has rights to 85 cfs, but anticipates using only 48 cfs over the summer months, leaving a buffer of 17 cfs.
Roozen explained that time is urgent. Deputy City Attorney Darcy Swetnam told the Council that the Mayor would need to write a letter to Ecology asking for permission to temporarily transfer water rights. Ecology would investigate. If approved, the city would negotiate contracts with the two districts. She said normally this process could take a year, but that it’s possible it could be completed by Friday.
Council member Ryan Walters said the emergency request represents a failure in water planning. "We need to be planning so we can avoid being threatened with loss of crops," he added.
The critical crops includes vegetable seeds, potatoes, grains and berry crops. The valley supplies a large share of the U.S. farm seed supply, including 95 percent of table beets and 75 percent of spinach and cabbage. Worldwide, the valley produces 8 percent of the spinach seed supply and 25 percent of cabbage and beet seed.