Why the farmer and the enviro really can be friends on irrigation

Environmentalists don't often get behind flooding old-growth trees and expanding irrigation. But a deal in Eastern Washington has some surprises.
The Yakima River in eastern Washington.

The Yakima River in eastern Washington. Peter Stevens

Mark Twain once opined that in the American West, “whiskey’s for drinkin; water’s for fightin.” That’s been true in Washington’s Yakima River basin for decades. Plummeting salmon numbers, parched farms, and pokey progress on protecting wilderness meant deadlock on real solutions for fish, farms, and communities. Until now.

A solution is within reach, and it’s called the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Supported by conservationists, farmers, and the Yakama Nation, the original stewards of the basin’s lands and waters, it’s a precedent-setting opportunity to restore salmon, protect public lands and rivers, increase the reliability of water supplies for farmers, and create new jobs in the basin. Beyond that, the plan is a template for smart innovation in basins across the country that face the four horsemen of climate change, water scarcity, dwindling wildlife, and divisive politics. 

In a nutshell, the plan, if approved in its current form, will:

  • Protect more than 140,000 acres of public lands.
  • Acquire more than 70,000 acres of private lands for protection including in the Teanaway basin.
  • Designate more than 200 miles of wild and scenic rivers.
  • Fund a massive effort to restore river habitat.
  • Create fish passage on six major dams.
  • Establish more robust water markets and conservation measures to stretch farmers’ water supply.
  • Expand water storage in two reservoirs to ensure a much more reliable supply to farmers.

In so doing, it will bring back what may be the largest sockeye run on the West Coast, protect more of this gorgeous landscape with one penstroke than we've been able to save in the last 28 years, and make peace in one of the longest running water conflicts in the West.

With its roots in decades of fights between conservationists, tribes, farmers and irrigators, the plan doesn’t come a moment too soon.  Climate change is melting glaciers and changing runoff timing faster than you can say “Teanaway-Manastash.” Five droughts have plagued the basin since 1992. Climate change is making water scarcity the new normal.

This plan is the result of three years of negotiations between farmers, local elected officials, conservationists, and state and federal agencies.  Gov. Chris Gregoire and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar deserve credit for bringing the table together and helping the players work through their differences, understand each other’s interests, and agree to a plan that benefits everyone.

To support the plan, the conservation community has joined forces with some strange bedfellows — including irrigators, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The plan’s very existence is a testament to the Bureau of Reclamation's newfound flexibility; now that water shortages are hitting farmers hard, the bureau is championing ecosystem services and helping to create a model for future water projects around the country. Also joining are Washington’s senators, conservation leaders from the basin and around the state, the basin’s three counties, and recreation interests up and down the river. We are all invested in making this approach succeed. As a result, this is a balanced plan — strengthening the local economy and securing wilderness gains in a very conservative part of the country.

And yes, it’s a compromise. Like any compromise there are parts we don’t like. Building new dams, expanding reservoirs, and flooding some old growth forest aren’t things we usually get behind, to put it mildly. All of us have worked for decades to remove dams that cause more problems than they solve and protect forests and other important habitats. So we don’t take these compromises lightly. But the upside of the plan for wild lands and wildlife is spectacular.

Quite simply, the plan will result in impressive salmon recovery and habitat restoration, water quality improvements, new federal wilderness and wild and scenic river designations, and the addition of more than 70,000 acres of privately owned land to conservation status. This includes 45,000 acres in the Teanaway basin that has been the unobtainable crown jewel for Washington conservation groups for decades. The plan will protect 200 acres for every acre flooded by reservoir expansion.  


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 13, 2:57 a.m. Inappropriate

It would be nice if there were more information about the dams, and flooded land in the article. The idea of diverting water from the Columbia Basin to the Yakima Basin does not seem to be a good idea. The selling, or leasing of water rights to downstream users is also not a good idea. Over time these water righte would be accumulated and held by a very few entities.

jhande

Posted Mon, Jul 23, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

nice, great sharing.

Posted Fri, Jul 13, 6:52 a.m. Inappropriate

jhande, it does take a little digging to find this info on dams and flooded land. In a nutshell, there would be fish passage improvements at Clear Lake Bumping Lake, Cle Elum, Tieton, Keechelus, & Kachess dams. There is some form of passage already, but there are inadequacies. For example, when water levels fluctuate out of an optimum range at some of these dams, passage is compromised.
The flooded area with old growth trees is at Bumping Lake, a result of the dam expansion there. The creation of the Wymer dam will flood some steppe habitat that is currently privately owned.
The transfer of water rights is supposed to help IDs allocate water where it is needed, but I can understand your concern.
While I don't necessarily disagree that diverting water from the Columbia is a bad idea, I'd like to see your rationale on that. BTW, this agreement would fund a study of the concept, not actual construction.

Tuck

Posted Fri, Jul 13, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Tuck, The diversion would exacerbate further commodification of Washington State owned waters.This plan would turn water into a commodity to be shipped around willy nilly at the bequest of wealthy interest for the benefit of wealthy interests ( maybe not at the start, but eventually it would happen).Citizens lose real common ownership of Washington State water.

California has floated the idea, more than once, to tap into the Columbia River and pipe it to California.I think that once the precedent is set that it is okay to move large amounts of water from one watershed to another, it opens up more liklihood of California being able to take Washington State water.

I have the same concerns about the sale, or lease, of water rights from one water district to another. Eventually the water rights would get concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy interests, leaving everyone else high and dry. I realize that this is not the objective of this plan; but once resources are commodified, that is what happens.
There are also deep ecology reasons to not transfer the water from basin to basin.

Now, as to the dams. There are many areas of Eastern Washington that would be possible to dam. Many of these places, such as Shanker's Bend on the Similkameen River, are already being looked at for dams. The attempt here seems to be to insert dams into areas that are not well known, it is still inserting dams. This plan would set a precedent for inserting these dams into other areas of Washington State. The question becomes, who does this benefit?

That is a question about this whole plan. Is all this going to be done to assist corporate agribusiness? Will this be done to assist multi-national corporations with irrigation? Will this be done to assist foreign owned agribusiness corporations? I have not read the EIS yet (too busy studying the arena proposal), but this does not seem to me to be the way to go. Washington State needs to guard the common ownership of Washington State water to the citizenry. Water should never be treated as a commodity.

jhande

Posted Sat, Jul 14, 12:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I hope Crosscut can give some space to the other side here, for there is much more to this picture than one sees in the above article.

There is plenty of water in the Yakima basin. Five large reservoirs already store vast amounts. The problem is that the majority of it goes to a limited number of senior water "rights" holders, who get it delivered for next to nothing, at taxpayers' expense. They don't want to share, and they don't want to conserve. So the less senior water "rights" holders, who still get plenty of nearly free water, just not quite as much as their senior fellows, want more. They don't want to pay for it themselves, they want the rest of us to give it to them, and spend billions and billions in doing so.

That's what this plan is really about, giving yet more subsidized water to largely corporate owned agribusiness in the Yakima valley, interests that already get plenty but always want more.

It's been dressed up with lots of promises to do all sorts of good things, so they can massage the abysmal cost/benefit ratios for a new Bumping Lake dam, numbers that even the Bureau of Reclamation admits make it absurdly uneconomic. And that's just what these supposed benefits are, promises, nothing more. The dam proponents talk like they are guarantees, but they are nothing of the sort. Meanwhile, in less public forums, it is interesting to hear someone like the Department of Ecology's Derek Sandison take great pains to point out how each part of this plan is entirely stand-alone. Sadly, there is no prize for guessing which parts of the plan Chairman Doc Hastings will likely choose to fund.

The authors of this article touch on a number of points while glossing over the negatives, and it would take much more space than is available here to address many of them. Looking at just one, the Teanaway area, through a different lens gives a much different view. The plan proponents talk about some sort of "conservation status." Is that public ownership? Considering that such efforts, like the one to preserve Weyerhaeuser's former Snoqualmie Tree Farm, have come to naught even in pro-conservation King County, how realistic is it to think that it could ever happen in fiercely anti-conservation Kittitas County? Not very. And while it would be nice to see these Teanaway lands conserved in some fashion, calling them the "crown jewel" of Washington conservationists is a big stretch. It was for many years owned by Boise Cascade timber, and there is hardly a tree there older than 40. It is one of the most heavily cutover areas in the state.

In any case it, along with the other things like fish ladders and new land designations, are nothing more than promises thrown into the mix to sweeten the pot and help get a new Bumping Lake dam built. Once BuRec and Yakima agribusiness get that, they will have little to no interest in these other things. Not for the first time will we hear how these other parts of the plan are "aspirational..."

The real crown jewels here are the ancient forests at Bumping Lake, which will be destroyed if BuRec and Yakima agribusiness gets their way. Very little logging has ever happened there, and it is home to one of the last, and most impressive forests left in the Cascades. Cathedral-like groves of pine, fir, larch and other species there are all the more remarkable for growing on nearly flat ground. About the only other place left rivalling it is Big Beaver valley in the North Cascades, once similarly threatened by the raising of Ross Dam. The forests at Bumping were a favorite of late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who spent much time there and wrote about them extensively. No one dared flood them while he was alive - what would he think now?

I dearly hope Crosscut will run a better treatment of this plan than the above article. I understand about tight budgets and hard times, but this is too important an issue, and deserves a more objective look than we are getting here.

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Good replies about what should be. The reality is, this is the only plan on the table. There was also a "no action" plan, which simply did ongoing maintenance and some water conservation measures, both of which got incorporated into this plan. The comment period was last spring. I gather there were over 2,000 written comments, but I don't think there was significant impact on the plan.
What if we didn't subsidize corporate agribusiness in this way? They'd say they are forced to take the differential in the cost of water and add it to their prices. So at first, we'd pay it as a tax or pay it in our food purchases. But then they might start adopting better water conservation strategies to gain a competitive edge, which would both eventually drive prices down some and save some water.
So I agree, I'd rather see water delivered at cost and watch capitalism deal with it efficiently. We might see certain water intensive crops disappear from our semi-desert lands, such as potatoes.
Fish passage and conservation should be part of that cost (in the same way that half our military budget should be allocated to the cost of oil when making cost benefit decisions versus other energy sources, but that is another rant), whether it's a tax or a higher price for water.
And I remember the cost/benefit ratios you talk of, and was somewhat surprised to see the plan pushed forward, anyway. This would be the way to attack it at the grassroots level.
I'm less informed on water rights, but I can see where jhande is coming from, and appreciate the comment. Did we ever have common ownership? Heck, I don't even own my well water.

Tuck

Posted Thu, Jul 19, 11:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Are the 2000 written comments available anywhere online to read?

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

We are getting higher food prices whether we do this plan, or not. Building the projects identified in this plan will not reduce cost to us. These projects would be to provide irrigation to corporate agribusiness to grow crops for export. Did apple prices go down at the grocery store after harvest? No. Have the cherrie prices gone down even though it is cherry season? No. Are we still paying 5 dollars for a loaf of bread, while ships are down at the grain termonal loading up on wheat to export? Yes. We will not benefit from this plan; but, we will be asked to pay for it. I would think that the agribusiness corporations won't pay much as they avoid paying taxes. The commodities grown will be sold at a price of "what the market will bear" on the world market. Food prices in the United States will just continue to get higher because of the exports of food. Corporations that use the "what the market will bear" (also known as gouging) do not need subsidy from the United States citizen. Washington State does not need to be some third world state with cropland used to grow commodities mainly for export.

jhande

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Most people who complain about high food prices are lazy shoppers. Your whining about $5 bread is a case in point. If it were really a problem to pay that much, you'd look for sales at the grocery store and never pay more than about $2.50. If that were a problem, you'd make your own bread for a buck a loaf.

As for cherries not being cheaper in season: I get fresh cherries only in season. Otherwise, I never see them at the store. Other fresh crops that I buy out of season are often imported from South America. You oppose that, too?

NotFan

Posted Tue, Jul 17, 4:42 p.m. Inappropriate

2.50 is too high.

jhande

Posted Thu, Jul 19, 11:40 p.m. Inappropriate

There are very few loaves of bread worth $5. But there are some, and some made here in Seattle.

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

If this compromise gets done, then the old-growth trees should be logged rather than flooded. I am no fan of logging old-growth in general, but it would make no sense to bury it under water rather than using it. Now that Seattle has banned plastic bags, maybe it could be made into paper bags.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Compromise isn't quite the correct phrase for this plan. "Selling out" is closer, but not quite right either. I recognize that the groups pushing this - strangely referred to as "conservation" groups - are trying to so the right thing and have great goals. However, sacrificing old growth and a massively beautiful recreational area is not acceptable.

The two myths that are perpetuated in this push for billion-dollar dams-as-solutions are: (1) The only way to save the Teanaway basin is to trade Bumping for it (not an equal trade - I've spent considerable time in both) and (2) It's not possible to take on the senior water rights and mandate conservation and water marketing, as well as assisting junior districts to convert to low-water crops.

As soon as the people who are directing this proposal tell themselves the truth when it comes to these two myths, the sooner we'll get to a real proposal that doesn't include destroying pristine wilderness, an incredible recreational area, and irreplaceable old-growth that are all inherent at Bumping Lake.

If all of you have "worked for decades to remove dams that cause more problems than they solve and protect forests and other important habitats", why stop now? If I were any of this quasi-environmental organizations I would be ashamed of myself.

Posted Sun, Jul 15, 7:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Where does one start? There is so much mis-information and missing information in the article and comments.

First the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan if approved will not DO any of the the things promised. They are merely promises and each and every element must be separately approved and funded independently.

The Integrated Plan is a sham and a con game designed to get buy in from gullible environmental organizations for building new reservoirs. As soon as the reservoirs are approved, the promises for fish passage, Wilderness, Wild & Scenic Rivers will be forgotten or dismissed as too expensive.

Of course if Bumping Lake gets built, the old growth will be logged, with glee! We won't get a drowned old growth forest, we'll get a mud flat inhabited by stumps! Because there isn't enough water in the Bumping River watershed to reliably fill the enlarged reservoir. Which is the reason the BuRec dropped consideration of the enlarged reservoir from their 2008 Feasibility Study. One would think that if the BuRec doesn't want to build a dam, it isn't a very good idea. And it isn't!

Posted Mon, Jul 16, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

There is so much missing information here because this is essentially an opinion piece, not independent journalism or an in-depth article. Regardless of one's personal perspective, it's a shame when new media can provide a venue for other's voices but cannot afford a voice of its own. What about the people who live and work in this area? What do they think? Obviously, I am becoming a broken record on the need for bottom-up independent boots on the ground journalism. My last comment to this effect. Best to Crosscut.

tom_hyde

Posted Tue, Jul 17, 6:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I understand the concerns of those posting here. But after evaluating the pros and cons, its clear to me and to Conservation Northwest, which I direct, that the YBIP is an overwhelming net benefit for the environment. While it's true that its unclear funding will be available to implement any of it, its ridiculous for some to contend that the damaging things will be done but not those on the conservation side. The time is now to move forward.

Posted Tue, Jul 17, 4:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Mitch, We do not need to plum the entire hydrology of Washington State, put control in the hands of a central authority, and then work to sell water to the highest corporate bidder. Also, flooding old growth for what. So, are the entire highlands of Eastern Washington now to be open for dams? This plan is a waste of taxpayers dollars, destroys citizen control of water, destroys rare habitat, and benefits economically only agribusiness.

jhande

Posted Tue, Jul 17, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

jhande, the hydrology of Yakima is already heavily plumbed in a way that is not good for the environment. The point of the Yakima Plan is to modernize the system (fish passage, more efficient irrigation, more water storage) to provide for huge increases in salmon and steelhead runs and provide a more certain water supply for threatened fish and farms in the face of climate change (there would be no increase in land under irrigation). And I'm not sure how a plan that restores 200,000+ sockeye and protects vulnerable watersheds from development "benefits only" agriculture.

mmaria

Posted Thu, Jul 19, 11:46 p.m. Inappropriate

The way you come off with your comments is that you are in the nonprofit power seat, and know all, and the rest of us little peons should just sit back and shut up, for you know best.

More than a little patronizing.

Posted Thu, Jul 19, 11:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry, this was addressed to MitchFriedman.

Posted Tue, Jul 17, 10:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Point taken about each element having to go through it own funding and environmental impact process. But the point should also be raised that we don't yet know how badly we are going to get reamed by the irrigators until the "allocation of responsibility" comes out of BuRec later this year.
I agree with everyone commenting that flooding Bumping Lake in this way isn't a good idea. Folks who feel especially strongly about that element of the plan had best start organizing! Wymer is not rare or critical habitat, to my knowldege, and I'm happier with that being made into a reservoir.
All this depending on the cost/benefit ratios. My recollection is there weren't any real winners -- even in the "no action " plan, which called for conservation measures & maintenance. But in terms of benefit to who, the "no action" plan was of course, environmentally the best, even though fish-related improvements would come more slowly, if at all. But to hear folks talk, that'll be the case no matter what!
But I don't think the dire predictions of the fish passage and such will be dismissed will come true, as the tribal treaty rights to healthy fisheries is a legal club they can swing if the funding is unbalanced.

Tuck

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Let me begin by giving some brief background: I grew up in the Yakima Valley on an irrigated farm, and have spent the last 35 years involved in water planning, salmon restoration, water litigation, and drafting and promoting water legislation in the Yakima Basin, specifically the 1994 bill "Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project". I was a member of a delegation to Congress that testified in favor of expanding Bumping Lake in 1980. I am therefore very familiar with the ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural value of water in the Basin.

The Integrated Plan (IP) is the latest document dealing with water planning in the Yakima Basin that stretches back well over 100 years. There have been at least three other attempts to expand Bumping Lake since WWII, with reports issued in 1956, 1967, and 1977. All such efforts have been unsuccessful, for various reasons. As a long-time participant in water planning in the Yakima Basin, I well understand the necessity for compromise. However, I believe that that the IP currently being considered is fatally flawed for two primary reasons: 1. Even if fully implemented, the component actions provide far too little water to meet the needs of irrigated agriculture,large-scale salmon restoration, and water for municipal growth. 2. The major component actions are simply not going to happen.

Most of my comments will be directed at 1.

1. Few people not directly involved in the details of water issues in the Yakima Basin have a grasp of the magnitude of the amount of additional water required to meet the goals that I listed. Snoqualman is incorrect, we do not have "plenty of water" in the Yakima Basin. We do not store "vast amounts" in our reservoirs. Reservoir capacity in the Yakima Basin is approximately 1 million acre/feet of water. In an average year, somewhere in the range of 2.4 million acre/feet will be diverted for irrigation. That means that agriculture starts each year with less than half of its requirements in storage, even in good water years. In drought years, far less than half may be available from storage. When that happens,agricultural production can plummet, with disastrous impacts on the socioeconomic well-being of the people in the Basin. And remember, much of the agricultural production from the Yakima Basin is exported through the Port of Seattle. No fruit, no dock jobs. What happens in the Yakima Basin is of regional significance.
One of the fatal flaws of the IP is that it does little to improve the water supply for agriculture if the drought lasts more than one year. And, unfortunately, we have recent experience with three-year drought cycles during which some farmers received less than 40% of a normal water supply. What's the point of spending $4 billion if that provides no help during the 2nd and 3rd years of a drought? To prevent serious economic impacts of multi-year droughts requires considerably more water than is contained in the IP.
Some clarification about water rights: It is true that there are "Senior" (Non-proratable) and "Junior" (Proratable) water rights in the Yakima Basin. When the water supply is not adequate to meet a full water supply for all irrigators, those that have "Junior" (Proratable) water rights receive less than a full supply, with attendant loss of production and negative economic impacts. However, it is not true, as some comments would indicate, that this is because the those with "Senior" (Non-protable) water rights do not want to share. Water rights in the Yakima Basin have been adjudicated in Superior Court; it is not a matter of sharing, the priority has been established by the Court. Baring some radical change in Western Water Law, this situation is not going to change any time soon.
With respect to Corporate farms, there are few, if any, large corporate farms in the Yakima Basin. Even the farms that are set up as corporations are owned by families. This is not California.

If anything, the failure of the IP is even greater when it comes to salmon restoration. Contrary to what the authors of the main article state, the IP will not restore salmon to "historic numbers", unless, of course, they are talking about historic depressed numbers. Other than sockeye, the increase in salmon and steelhead projected in the IP is very modest, at best. And the sockeye increase is attributable to proposed passage improvements at the storage dames, and is not related to other items in the IP, certainly not the storage projects.
Besides passage at the storage reservoirs, the most pressing requirement for salmon restoration in the Yakima Basin is for large amounts of water for instream flows, most notably in the Lower Yakima River. The IP provides only a very modest amount of water for instream flows, assuming all items were implemented.
In addition to instream flows, the IP does little to address the serious water quality problems that exist in the lower 100 miles of the Yakima River, from Union Gap to the mouth at Richland. There is a reason that the only salmon runs that currently exist in the Yakima Basin migrate through the Lower Yakima River in the spring or fall; this reach of the river is a death trap during the summer. The salmon deserve better than the IP.

2. The failure to implement significant new storage capacity in the Yakima Basin is well-documented. In addition to the '57, '67, '77 cycle noted above, there was a major effort during the 1980's led by Sen. Evans and Rep. Morrison. That, also, ended in failure. Those that produced the IP are well-aware of the inability, over the decades, to construct new storage in the Yakima Basin, but chose to ignore that record. Those that fail to learn from history....
There are some, including the authors of the main article, that want us to believe that the entire "Conservation Community" is on-board with the IP. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are significant conservation entities and segments of that community that are, and will continue to be, vigorously opposed to the IP as long as it includes the expansion of Bumping Lake, or storage projects of any kind. Based on the history, and their continuing strong opposition, what are the odds that Bumping Lake will be expanded?

In summary, the IP is fatally flawed because it: 1 Produces little benefit for either agriculture or salmon restoration, at the cost of billions of dollars. 2. It simply can not be implemented. 3. It does not take into account Climate Change and does little to improve water quality in the Yakima River.

In my opinion, my friends in the Conservation Community, including the authors of the main article, have made a serious error by agreeing to this wholly inadequate effort. The IP has all the structural integrity and life-expectancy of a house of cards in an Eastern Washington wind storm. We must do better.

BT

Posted Thu, Jul 19, 4:37 a.m. Inappropriate

BT, Thanks for the good post, and the background information.I learned some things from your post. That is why we read.

jhande

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 7:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Tuck, thanks for your insights, you seem quite knowledgeable about these matters. As for organizing to save the Bumping Lake forests, we're trying. Search for "Friends of Bumping Lake." Please join!

BT, thanks as well. I have a hard time accepting your assertion that Yakima agriculture "requires" much more water than currently on offer. I would say "wants" more is a much better description, especially after hearing conservation so casually dismissed at the Work Group meeting I attended this spring.

Please tell me, if they "require" so much more water, why are the taxpayers required to supply it to them? Seems as if it were a legitimate need, they could raise financing on their own. A century ago, it was about settling the country, greening the deserts, and all that. Now it looks like corporate welfare. Why can't they pay for their own water? If the economics of what they are doing are so poor, maybe they are growing the wrong crops, or maybe some of them ought not be growing anything at all as things are currently set up.

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Snoqualman: You raise a very good question with respect to the legitimate needs for irrigation water. In average or above average water years, such as this year, all irrigation users will receive a full water supply. The problem comes in water-short years, especially if it is a two or three year drought cycle. In those years, over half of the irrigation water supply is subject to proration. The economic and social costs of a short supply for irrigation can be tremendous and linger for many years, especially for those growing permanent crops such as fruit, hops, or grapes. The costs of providing additional water for irrigation will be borne by the water users, to the extent that they benefit from additional water supplies.

The above comments only address irrigation water. The fish receive the left-overs. To fully restore salmon and steelhead runs will require several hundred thousand additional acre/feet of water each year. The Yakima Basin simply does not produce enough water to prevent serious impacts to agriculture during drought years, AND to provide water for really significant salmon and steelhead restoration. And we haven't even begun to talk about Climate Change and addressing the serious water quality problems in the Basin. See today's Yakima Herald Republic. At the present time, we are in a 0-sum game; we can only get water for fish if we take it away from irrigation, and if we want more water for irrigation, it has to come from the fish. We need a game changer; a vision for the new century. The IP simply puts band-aids on a water supply system that was laid out over 120 years ago.

BT

Posted Tue, Jul 31, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

BT: With respect to the multi-year droughts that are likely to become more common as the climate changes, models show that the IP would provide the water deliveries irrigators say they need to stay viable even in a year like 1994, which was the third year of a three year drought.

With respect to water quality, the IP's groundwater recharge projects will help create cool water refugia for salmon, and the plan's water conservation provisions will reduce polluted agricultural runoff at the same time that they improve river flows. And the IP supplements other significant efforts by the Dept. of Ecology to address water quality problems with the Yakima Basin's surface and groundwater -- it's not the only game in town when it comes to water quality.

You appear to be arguing, without explicitly saying so, for a mega storage project like Black Rock dam that pumps water from the Columbia into the Yakima Basin. That's been studied -- Black Rock would have had nearly twice the price tag of the IP ($7 billion vs. around $4 billion), sucked water out of the flow-constrained Columbia River (harming salmon and steelhead), and mobilized contaminated groundwater under the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The IP's more targeted storage and reach-by-reach flow improvements are a better option for restoring the health of the Yakima and its salmon. That's because the IP will fund the kind of things a Black Rock-like project's price tag would effectively preclude, such as fish passage, comprehensive habitat restoration, and water conservation projects that both extend water supply and improve flows for fish. And the more cost-effective and comprehensive nature of the IP is why NOAA Fisheries, the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, and American Rivers (where I work) support the plan.

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