As we prepare for another beautiful spring in the Tri-Cities, the impacts of the last drought in 2015 have begun to fade.

At the Kennewick Irrigation District (KID), the drought of 2015 is a reminder that each year we must be vigilant and prepare our community for different water supply conditions. In this preparation, a tremendous amount of work has been accomplished to improve technology, communications, modernize and replace the aging infrastructure that provides water to our farms, homes, parks and businesses.

Over the last decade, KID has invested over $25 million in its Capital Improvement Program; $16 million in local resources and $9 million in federal grants and funding. The bulk of these funds are used to line the earthen sections of our canal system. Within the next four to five years, 100 percent of the over 64 miles of major open channel canals will be lined. This lining provides improved reliability, reduced operational cost, and the water conserved from this project will help to reduce the impact caused by climate change and the reduction in our community’s water supply during drought years.

Today, KID and other irrigation districts face a changing climate, growing and changing communities, competing political interests and limited resources. KID is addressing these and other unique challenges head on: through proactive strategies that build flexibility into our water delivery system, tracking new and changing state and federal rules and regulations and by engaging in those processes to ensure that the voice of our community is heard.

As the lowest U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) Project in the Yakima Basin, KID is a return flow district. That means we receive the water returned to the river by upstream water users after it has been used at least once by those other water users. In drought years, KID is able to divert water only after the minimum target flow level is met at the Prosser Dam. Historically, these return flows have been an abundant source of water to our customers during low-water years. In the process of modernizing the Yakima Basin water users systems, conservation and efficiency measures implemented by upstream water users, although valuable and necessary, have negatively impacted our water supply.

Recent modeling conducted by Reclamation has confirmed: As more conservation projects are constructed, river flows will continue to diminish, affecting our water supply. KID is actively pursuing replacements for this lost water supply.

With the need to enhance the reliability of our community’s water supply, KID continues to develop water storage facilities in our community. Since 2012, KID has been building water storage facilities to supplement supplies during times of drought and provide improved service every year. Recently, KID purchased 334 acres of land in Badger Canyon as a potential site for a large 12,000-acre-foot storage reservoir.

The struggle to ensure water for a growing community means actively protecting our water supply. It is a struggle that must be fought daily and demands flexible and proactive strategies. Working closely with our neighbors, KID will continue to protect, conserve and maximize our precious water resources both in times of plenty and times of scarcity.