Starting as soon as this week, many irrigators in the Touchet River basin will have to curb consumption to save water for fish and other uses.
The Touchet River watershed includes about 740 miles within Columbia and Walla Walla counties. While streamflows naturally vary depending on the season and from one year to the next, The Washington Department of Ecology hasn’t issued restriction notices in the watershed since 2016.
Right now, the river is running about 50 cubic feet per second near its mid-section, and under 20 cubic feet per second at its confluence with the Walla Walla River, according to current measurements.
Along with enduring hot weather, the low volume is partly due to Southeast Washington’s most severe flooding in decades. The early February deluge washed away most low-level snowpack in a matter of days, meaning area aquifers weren’t recharged with slow spring melt off.
If the weather cools, the Touchet may recover this summer. Until then, Ecology will limit how much water can be diverted from the river in order to protect senior water rights and streamflows.
“We need the community to help us protect flows to meet the needs of people, farms, and fish,” said Eric Hartwig, Ecology’s regional water master. In the next few days, Hartwig will call or visit junior water rights holders to inform them of the curtailment order, and he’ll follow up with status updates throughout the season.
“If everyone does their part and follows the rules, we’ll make it through these high temperatures with as little pain as possible,” he said.
Find the latest information on flows and water right interruption on Ecology's river and stream flow monitoring page.