Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Take Action for Yakima River Salmon


The Washington Department of Ecology is accepting comments on their Draft Yakima Water Management Plan. The plan which seeks to address the long term water demands of both fish and irrigators proposes roughly $4 billion dollars in increased storage, water conservation and marketing, fish passage, and extensive habitat protection and restoration. The plan includes provisions to increase water storage in the Yakima Basin through the construction of Wymer dam in the Lluma Creek drainage, as well as storage in Cle Elum and Bumping Lakes. It also proposes to create fish passage at a number of dams in the basin and implement operational changes at dams throughout the basin to provide a more natural hydrograph which will speed the outmigration of smolts in spring and improve spawning and rearing habitat in the mainstem Yakima and tributaries.

The timing of dam releases and withdrawals designed to meet irrigation needs are currently a major limitation to the recovery of listed Chinook and steelhead in the Yakima. Low winter flows, a truncated runoff season, artificially high summer flows and the “flip-flop” whereby Yakima River flows are dramatically reduced and replaced by Naches River reservoir supply during the early fall have all taken their toll the on the capacity of the Yakima and Naches to support healthy anadromous runs.

Despite previous opposition to the construction of Black Rock Reservoir, many in the Yakima basin appear resigned to the possibility that increased water storage will be needed in the future. The billion dollar Wymer dam is proposed for the Lmuma Creek drainage, a small ephemeral creek in the Lower Canyon. The plan calls for water to being pumped into the reservoir from the Upper Canyon reach near Thorp. The diversion could potentially benefit fish by reducing unnaturally high summer irrigation flows in the stretch between Thorp and the bottom of the Lower Canyon, allowing for additional pulsed releases during the smolt outmigration. The plan also proposes increased winter base flows and pumping additional water from Keechelus Lake to Kachess allowing the upper 11 miles of the Yakima to be managed under a relatively natural flow regime. Operations at the Roza and Chandler power plants would also reduce water diversions to supporting increased stream flows in the reaches immediately downstream which have previously been largely dewatered for major portions of the year.
All told the plan has the potential to greatly benefit fish populations in the Yakima basin, but it is critical that the measures which benefit fisheries be implemented fully and be given equal priority in federally appropriated funds. Comment today on the draft plan and tell the department of Ecology to:

  • Prioritize fish recovery and water conservation actions for immediate implementation even without congressional authorization for the full $4 billion in funding.
  • Increase storage capacity only after thorough environmental review and a determination that doing so will not have undue impacts on listed bull trout or other species.
  • Manage increased water storage such that it provides a more natural hydrograph and improved habitat conditions in the mainstem Yakima, and Naches Rivers.
  • Prioritize protection and restoration of the Teanaway River basin, where there is an imminent development threat but also considerable potential for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout recovery.
  • Include in the EIS an assessment of how the various alternatives will (or won’t) help fish populations survive and recover in the face of climate change
Comments are due by May 19th and can be sent to:

Attention: Candace McKinley, Environmental Program manager,

1917 Marsh Road

Yakima, WA 98901;

or by e-mail to yrbwep@usbr.gov


More information at Ecology's website:
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/cr_yak_storage.html

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