river at shellrock

Plenty of sand shows along the Okanogan River at Shellrock Point.

YAKIMA – Holders of junior water rights in the Okanogan, Similkameen and Methow watersheds are reminded to call the state Department of Ecology daily to see if they can irrigate.

As of Thursday, the Similkameen River was below minimum flow level, meaning junior water users cannot draw from the river. The Okanogan and Methow were “right on the line,” said Ryan Lancaster of the state Department of Ecology.

That means junior water users may have to curb consumption if lower water levels persist, he said.

Water users are asked to call daily to 866-277-4092 to learn if water use is curtailed.

“If water rates fall to 95 percent of minimums, water use is shut down for junior users,” Lancaster said. “Once rates return to 105 percent of minimums, they’re turned back on.”

Minimum water levels vary, depending on river location and time of year.

Stream flow restriction letters were sent to Okanogan, Similkameen and Methow watershed junior water users in April, said Joye Redfield-Wilder of the state Department of Ecology in Yakima. Water use is based on stream flow levels, regardless of whether there is a declared drought.

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared drought conditions in Okanogan County and several others statewide.

In early June, extreme low flows forecast in the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers threatened the ability of local irrigators to use water from the rivers later in the summer, so water was allowed to flow into Lake Osoyoos.

Lake levels are managed at Zosel Dam in Oroville under orders of control mandated by the International Joint Commission. The dam is being operated through Sept. 15 according to drought condition rules included in the orders of control.

Under drought operation authorization, the department can fill the lake a half-foot higher than usual, from 912 feet to 912.5 feet, and draw it down to 910.5 later in the summer. That’s below the usual operating summer minimum of 911 feet.

The higher level is expected to provide an extra 3,000 acre-feet of water, said Al Josephy of the department’s water resources program.

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