Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Climate, Water and Hay Aligned in Kittitas Valley

Climate, available irrigation water and good soils align in the Kittitas Valley to make this central Washington valley an attractive area for growing livestock feed. Some history might play a role as well.

Climate in the Kittitas consists of warm and dry spring, summer and fall weather. Spring comes fairly early in the year and warm temperatures linger well into October (particularly this year!). Winters are cold with sub 0 degree F not unusual. In addition, the Kittitas Valley is a bit on the windy side. There is a bit of a low area in the Cascade Range to the west and wind pours across this valley due to pressure gradients that develop between the east side and west sides of the Cascades. The wind helps create drying conditions good for allowing cut hay and alfalfa to dry in the fields after cutting. There are also major wind farms around the perimeter of the valley.

Hay and alfalfa production takes lots of water. The Yakima River flows through the Kittitas Valley and diversions of Yakima water into canals provides irrigation water for many fields. Streams flowing into the valley from the west are also utilized for watering fields. Manastash Creek is fully diverted through fields on the southwest side of the valley.   

Reworked field readied for a new hay crop with flood irrigation pipes on the side of the field

Lush alfalfa field with new robust new growth stands out against the arid unirrigated hills.

Flood irrigation pipes and high sprinkler pipes spread diverted water from Manastash Creek over these fields.

Historically the valley was a good over wintering spot used by Kittitas and Yakima Peoples and later by Euro-American settlers. Though it gets very cold in the winter, deep snow is rare and warm breaks of Chinook winds descending off the mountains to the west melt snow and provides breaks from the cold. With lots of high country to the north and west, grazing animals could move up into the mountains in the summer and fields could be used for growing feed for the winter when animals returned. Hence, a tradition was started of hay and alfalfa growing that continues today. However, now a fair bit of the Kittitas hay and alfalfa is exported out of the valley including to overseas markets.

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