Irrigated Agriculture on State Trust Lands

Rows of potatoes are seen in front of orchard leases on state trust lands.

Rows of potatoes are seen in front of orchard lease, both on state trust lands. Photo: Mark Bohnet

Today, irrigation water rights are very hard to come by, and if you do find water rights available, they are very expensive to acquire. 

But, did you know: The Washington State DNR manages 45,770 acres with water rights that allow us to irrigate state trust lands in orchards, vineyards and row-crops—that help increase long-term revenue to the public schools in the state.  

A state trust lands onion landscape in southeast Washington.

An irrigated ‘onion landscape’ on trust lands in southeast Washington. DNR Photo: Mark Bohnet

How did this come about? 
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, as the Columbia Basin Irrigation Reclamation Project progressed, DNR’s leaders anticipated the great potential in water’s ability to improve benefits to the people of Washington through irrigation that would increase state trust land income into the future. They applied to the federal government and received ground water and surface water rights. DNR invested in drilling irrigation wells, applied for inclusion in irrigation districts and applied to receive water through river pumping stations.

DNR collaborated with local communities and entered into partnerships with local and area farmers through lease agreements in order to develop (mostly) school trust lands for irrigation.

At that time, non-farmed lands leased for less than 50 cents per acre. In fiscal year 2012 these irrigated lands returned more than $11.5 million in revenue to the trusts, primarily the common school construction trust fund. These lands in agriculture, scattered primarily throughout Eastern Washington, have become an ever-greater treasure to all the people of Washington State.

Mark Bohnet
Snake River District Manager

Crop circle helps make arrid state trust lands more productive.

Crop circle helps make arrid state trust lands more productive.