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Washington wineries considering dramatic changes for climate change – Crosscut

‘Under attack’

Wine is a big business in Washington state — and a growing one. While California produces the majority of wine in the United States, Washington is a distant second, producing roughly 10% of the nation’s wines. Washington’s vineyards have grown from 37,398 acres in 2010 to 59,601 acres in 2021, according to the Washington Winegrowers Association.

Much of that acreage is irrigated with water flowing from the Cascades, where higher temperatures are causing snowpack to melt earlier in the year. The shift means Eastern Washington irrigators — including vinters — get more water in the spring and less in the summer and fall. That throws vineyards out of whack. 

Beyond the change in timing, there has recently been less water to go around. In July, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for most of the state. “Our state is under attack from the combined effects of climate change,” Inslee said at the time.

Keller said about 30% less water is going to vineyards than in the 1980s. Grape growers are conserving water with methods such as drip irrigation, allowing production to increase while the amount of available water shrinks. 

An unknown factor is how warmer temperatures will affect stream flows and availability of irrigation water, Keller said. There are long-range plans to improve water storage in the Yakima River watershed during drought years. One would see a pumping station built on Lake Kachess in the mountains near Snoqualmie Pass to retain 200,000 acre-feet of water. Smaller reservoirs and water storage projects are supposed to be built in the next 20 to 30 years along the river’s tributaries to also improve storage.

“That will absolutely help us,” said Scott Revell, executive director of the Roza Irrigation District, which hugs much of the Yakima River. The Roza district irrigates roughly 72,000 acres of crops, including 10,169 acres of wine grapes.

A similar reservoir project to help Benton County farmers and grape growers is on the drawing board for Switzler Canyon, southeast of Kennewick.

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