Recycled water use in King County: Navigating water rights with innovative solutions

Many agricultural lands in King County lack access to irrigation water or do not have sufficient water to meet the farm’s needs. Access to a stable water source significantly influences how farmland can be used. Irrigation improves crop yields, allows for more diverse crops, and can generate higher revenues for farmers.

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A common misperception is that there is a sufficient water supply for current water needs in King County because of the high amount of rainfall per year. Although the amount of rainfall King County receives on annual basis is enough to meet the current and future demands of farmers in the region, farmers are challenged because there is very little rainfall during the growing season for crops.

Relatively dry summer months have always been a challenge for farmers who do not have access to dependable supplies of irrigation water and those challenges are only increasing with climate change that portends even longer, drier summers.

In 2017, King County conducted a preliminary assessment of irrigation water needs in the Sammamish Agricultural Production District and determined that agricultural production on over 200 acres of currently farmed land could be greatly enhanced if the farmers had access to a dependable source of irrigation water.

To more accurately understand the scope of water needs in King County, the King County Agricultural Program will begin a County-wide agricultural water needs assessment in 2019. There is not enough current information to determine how much water is needed for King County farms to successfully produce crops. The water needs assessment will be important for managing and conserving water in King County.

Meanwhile, King County is exploring innovative solutions in the Sammamish Valley to provide increased access to irrigation. One solution is using recycled water on farmland, which is called out as a priority action in King County’s Local Food initiative.

“In this context, recycled water is water from wastewater treatment plants that have gone through a high level of treatment and is suitable for release into the environment,” said Rick Reinlasoder, Agricultural Program Project Manager. King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division produces the recycled water at the Brightwater Treatment Plant, just outside of Woodinville.

A few decades ago, King County procured the 18-acre Sammamish River Farm to provide a space for immigrant farmers to farm for sustenance and a living. The property does not have a legal water right so the five tenant farmers have no access to irrigation water. Recycled water is currently available via a small tanker trailer; however not all five tenants have trucks that can be hooked up to the trailer to access the water. This water delivery process is not feasible for commercial scale production in the long-term.

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This small tanker trailer provides recycled water to Sammamish River Farm.

“We do not have the necessary water available to allow tenants at Sammamish River Farm to properly irrigate,” said Reinlasoder. “While we sort through the process of using recycled water on this property, the King County Water and Land Resources Division is working with the Parks Division to seasonally transfer water from the King County owned 60 Acre Park to Sammamish River Farm.”

60 Acre Park is upstream from Sammamish River Farm and has water rights that sufficiently meet their current needs. The Parks Division is looking to expand their use of recycled water on the park’s soccer complex, which potentially reduces their demand for surface water. A portion of the unused surface water can be transferred downstream to allow Sammamish River Farm tenants the opportunity to pump water from the Sammamish River to irrigate their crops. The remaining unused portion of the 60 Acre Park water right can be left to benefit stream flow.

“There are farms in Sammamish Valley that have water rights; however, no new water rights are being created,” said Reinlasoder. “Increasing access to recycled water is important because farmers who need water but do not currently have access to it can use this alternative solution to meet their water needs.”

Recycled water is important for increasing the availability of irrigation water in King County; however, many farmers and members of the public are not familiar with uncertain about recycled water use. The Sammamish River Farm recycled water use pilot project may be helpful in improving understanding around the possibilities that recycled water presents for farmers and the environment.

In addition, the Washington Water Trust (WWT) plans to inform producers and the public about using recycled water for food crops by ensuring recycled water is feasible, affordable, and appropriate for farms in the Cedar Sammamish watershed.

WWT has been awarded a King Conservation District Regional Food System Grant to increase the public’s and producer understanding  of use of recycled water on food crops, increase number of farmers using recycled water for irrigation use, and improve crop yield and profit for farmers using recycle water for irrigation use.

If you or someone you know needs water rights in the Snoqualmie Valley, the Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District (WID) is still accepting new applications for water rights for the 2019 season. The WID Leasing Program offers farmers the opportunity to lease water rights for one to five years.

Please contact Cynthia@svwid.com or 425-549-0316 if you are interested in obtaining water rights. For more information, please visit WID’s website here.

 


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