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Opinion: Kennewick Irrigation District water conservation plan needed but presently has flaws

Note, dated opinion piece. The below article may no longer apply.

Since I first wrote the article, the irrigation district has changed the watering schedule several times. I have not contacted them about this, but it would appear that they may be experimenting to find the approach that works best for them and for the customers.

Meanwhile, the Tri-City Herald keeps updating their stories. You might want to look for more information there ( or at Kennewick Irrigation District (

Opinion: Drought conservation plan as reported in the Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Tri City Herald, revealed flaws that I would like to see addressed.

I believe we do need to conserve water during this drought, but there may be better ways to approach this.

  • The plan as presented would allow some residential homeowners double or triple the amount of water that others could get, and would needlessly waste of water in some neighborhoods.
  • It also might also turn some neighborhoods green while others, with shallow soil,  turn brown and ugly, 
  • It might penalize water users who have well-thought-out sprinkler designs while rewarding some users with older, inefficient systems.
  • Furthermore, it likely would set good neighbors to spying on one another, and would burden irrigation district employees with additional policing responsibilities while favoring wealthy homeowners over lower wage homeowners.

None of this would be necessary with a different approach, such as metered watering.

Water application rates

Most homeowners probably never gave a second thought to the precipitation rate of their sprinkler heads. If they had, they would know that run-time based rationing is inherently unfair and wasteful. 

A wasteful citizen could water his yard by turning on the all hoses and letting them run in a small, which would flood a small yard -- and fill the street gutters with excess water. Most of the water would be wasted but both homeowners would be using water for exactly thirty minutes.

Although the example was extreme, it serves to make this point: Not all irrigation systems are designed equally. Some sprinkler heads have high precipitation rates, therefore use twice the water as the neighbor with low-precipitation heads.That first neighbor gets twice the water for the money.

Thirty minutes per what?
The TCH article says KID will “allows users to water twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.”

This tells nothing about how much water a resident can use.  Is it 30 minutes per station, or 30 minutes total run time? (There could be a huge difference).

It would have been more helpful to say, for example, "You may water for 30 minutes per line."

Why thirty minutes will not work for everyone
Thirty minutes watering time per line may be perfect for some properties with deep, sand-and-loam soils capable of holding that much water, but at my house, thirty minutes at one time is too much water. Our rocky soil, if you want to call it that, ranges from two inches to ten inches deep, with most of it about three or four inches. That depth of soil will not hold much water.

My yard would handle ten minutes of water three days per week, much more efficiently than thirty minutes once per week, but the amount of water drawn from KID would be identical in both cases.

More details
I live in River View Pointe (South Richland), where the houses sit on a river-rock base, with a hard-pan base beneath that. The soil  may not hold thirty minutes worth of water. For us, the KID schedule as presented by TCH might not be the best..

If I water for 15 minutes the soil has about all it can hold. Beyond that, the water begins to run downhill (following the hard-pan) to the bottom of the little slope, where it puddles in the alley until it collects enough to overflow into the gutters, run into the street and, eventually, make its way back to the Columbia River, carrying with it whatever fertilizer, insecticides or other chemicals were in the soil.

Thus the over watering contributes to river pollution besides wasting precious KID irrigation water.

Soil as a reservoir or "water bank"
Just as you cannot make a withdrawal of cash if your bank runs out of money, your grass cannot withdraw much water if the soil is too shallow.

This means that homeowners with very shallow soil need to water for shorter times, but more times per week. Short but frequent watering times ensures that our soil will have more even watering and fewer dry days.

A better schedule
A sensible schedule at my residence would be ten minutes, six times per week, per sprinkler line. Because the soil is shallow, the lawns would be using all of the water I applied, without waste.

At the same time I would be using the same amount of water --  60 minutes per week -- as per KID's plan.

There is no one-size fits-all, run-time based watering schedule if the district wants to save water and use it efficiently.
Preferential treatment
The plan as described by the TCH allots more water to certain (relatively wealthy) “gentleman” farm owners, while restricting water to medium to lower income working families for reasons given below.

Folks living on larger properties, one to five acres with deep topsoil would benefit most from the district plan. Many gentleman farms that have popped up in recent years --the homes are large and expensive.

One of these gentleman farms may be pulling 80 gallons or more per minute, in contrast to smaller, properties, pulling 18 to 20 gallons per minute. The thirty-minute plan therefore discriminates against the poor while allowing the more fortunate to enjoy acres of greenery.

The remaining comments address issues not mentioned in the article, but important in my opinion.

Breaks for farmers could be justified, if ...
I agree that farms should hold a high priority. However – and this was not addressed in the article --but I want to add this: I the irrigation district surely knows that all farms use water equally efficiently.

Farmers who wish to be given priority should demonstrate that they are using the most efficient watering methods available for their type of land and for the type of crops they are growing. Many of our farms have the most water efficient systems on the market, and those farms should be given higher priority than farms that use less efficient, wasteful irrigation technology.

Why should a farmer using flood irritation be given a higher priority than a homeowner who uses drip irrigation? That makes no sense to me.

In closing, I do wish to thank KID and all the other irrigation districts in the area for the important services they provide, often under difficult circumstances. I offer the above information in the spirit of helpful citizen input, and I hope that the community will give this letter whatever consideration is appropriate. I would love to hear that these items have been addressed.


#irrigation #KID #kennewickirrigationdistrict #water  #drought #conservingwater


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