Saturday, January 2, 2010

Yakima Water Plan Moves Ahead

A consortium made up of three Eastern Washington Counties, The Yakama Nation as well as State and Federal Agencies is moving ahead with a water plan for the Yakima River. The goal is to have a plan in place by fall 2010 that will guide water management in the valley for the next 30 years. Among the measures included in the plan is improved fish passage at all the Dams in the Yakima Valley, habitat improvements, more water conservation and a more sophisticated way of buying and selling water rights.

The Yakima valley is one of Washington's most important agricultural areas, but balancing the needs of irrigators with those of fish, wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem has proven difficult over the last half century. Irrigation releases during summer have dramatically altered the hydrology of the system, dams currently block anadromous access to major portions of the drainage, and irrigation withdrawls during summer low water reduce flows to critical levels in many tributaries. Still, the Yakima is home to some of the healthiest runs of wild steelhead and fall chinook in the state and restoration efforts are underway to rebuild stocks of coho, spring chinook, sockeye and Upper Yakima Steelhead.

The next century will pose many challenges as climate change reduces snowpack and runoff. Many in the valley are pressing for the construction of more water storage in the form of a new dam probably in the Columbia area that would store water which could be pumped into the valley for summer irrigation. The plan however is contentious and the construction of a costly new dam is unlikely to solve the problems in the valley in the long run. More information on the plan in the Yakima Herald.

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