We’re making sure the Yakima Basin is always a great place for fish, families and farms.

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Recent Updates

Aug04

40 Percent of Yakima Basin Employment Relies on Water Supply, Economic Study Finds

(Yakima, WA) – A new report on the impact of water supply on the Yakima Basin’s economy finds water-dependent sectors account for 40 percent of the basin’s employment, providing 96,000 jobs, 28,000 of which are held by agricultural workers, packers and processors. The study conducted by economic consulting and planning firm ECONorthwest, was released by Yakima Basin Integrated Plan stakeholders.

Water influences almost all aspects of the Yakima Basin’s communities and environment, and is a main driver of the local economy. ECONorthwest’s report found water-dependent Yakima Basin firms produce an annual economic output of $13 billion. Agriculture and related industries generate $4.5 billion annually, and make up 75 percent of the basin’s $1.8 billion annual export value. Outdoor recreation, highly dependent on water for healthy forests, fire safety, angling and river excursions, generated $1.2 billion in 2015 and is expected to increase faster than the basin’s population growth rate through 2050.

The report’s findings underscore the need for water security in a basin vulnerable to drought. The 2001 drought caused the loss of 4,800 job-years of employment and $441 million in agricultural and economic losses. A partial estimate of the 2015 drought found agricultural losses of over $122 million. The frequency and severity of droughts are estimated to increase through the 2020s.

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan addresses these current and future threats to water supply through a package of actions including water storage, enhanced water conservation, habitat restoration, surface and groundwater storage, fish passage and water marketing.  ECONorthwest found that Integrated Plan construction projects will generate over $2.5 billion in economic output and $1.4 billion in personal income, supporting 27,000 job-years of work locally and 15,000 elsewhere in Washington. Once fully implemented the Integrated Plan will prevent $823 million in drought-related economic output loss and restore fish harvests up to an annual value of $313 million.

The report was funded by the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan’s Economic Subcommittee. Click here to read the executive summary.

May17

Farm drought losses point to need of water plan

By: Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board

It’s hard to envision, after a rugged winter and amid a reluctant spring: At this time in 2015, we were wishing for a little less sunshine and a lot cooler temperatures. A mild winter and early spring led to a drought declaration in March and water restrictions in the months following. Junior water rights holders had to make excruciating decisions on which crops received water, especially tree fruit. Some private wells dried up in what went down as the hottest year on record in Central Washington, and the agricultural community was warned to expect unprecedented losses.

Now we have an idea of how extensive those losses were.

The state Department of Agriculture has released a report that estimates growers lost $700 million across the state, but that may be just a start; ripple effects may bring to total past $1 billion. Among other factors, some trees haven’t recovered from the drought and aren’t as productive as they were before 2015.

Lack of water doesn’t appear to be a problem this growing season, but it’s prudent to assume that more dry years will hit in the future. State officials are using the report to plan for future drought response. Among the steps are emergency drought permitting, which allows irrigators who get surface water to have access to groundwater, and a drought declaration earlier in the season.

Long-term, this data should buttress the case for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a compromise that aims to combine conservation and new storage to ensure a more reliable water supply for Central Washington. A number of once-competing entities — agriculture, irrigators, the Yakama Nation, fishing interests, environmental groups, and local, county and state governments — have agreed on the plan, with an estimated cost of $4 billion.

Largely missing still is federal involvement, and for that we can thank a bickering Congress. A promising measure sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., last year won Senate approval for $92 million for a Lake Kachess project. The bill would have authorized the first 10-year phase of a 30-year project, and the money would have come on top of $160 million that the state has promised. Alas, that proposal fell victim to disputes in a House-Senate conference committee.

Cantwell has worked across party lines with 4th District U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who as a farmer knows well the critical need for water in our agricultural Valley. The state’s report provides stark numbers that buttress the case for the plan, one that given the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy, warrants the support of the entire congressional delegation. The plan builds infrastructure that will last for decades; a $700 million loss, multiplied by drought years that are inevitable down the road, highlight how the integrated plan’s investment will pay off in the future.

 

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Frank Purdy.

Nov30

Yakima County Receives Grant from Open Rivers Fund to Remove the Nelson Dam

Today, Yakima County announced it is the recipient of a $75,000 grant from the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund (RLF), supported by a 50th anniversary grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The funds will assist with the removal of the Nelson Dam, an 8-foot high irrigation diversion dam owned by the City of Yakima on the Naches River.

The Naches is an important salmon bearing river that is the largest tributary of the Yakima River. Sediment has built up for several miles behind Nelson Dam, exacerbating flooding in the area upstream from businesses, homes and roads. Removing Nelson Dam is an essential part of a plan to greatly reduce flood risks and improve public safety during floods.

The Nelson Dam is an 8-foot-high diversion dam that sits just upstream of the city of Yakima on the Naches River in Washington. (Credit: Justin Clifton)

The Nelson Dam is an 8-foot-high diversion dam that sits just upstream of the city of Yakima on the Naches River in Washington. (Credit: Justin Clifton)

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Nov07

Guest Editorial: Collaboration, not transfer, is solution to land management

By Tim Gavin and Lisa Pelly
Originally published by the Yakima Herald, November 5, 2016

Rep. Dan Newhouse held a listening session on the state of public lands on Oct. 12 in Wenatchee.

Newhouse was joined by Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, who has been a leading critic of public land management agencies and part of the national discussion about the transfer of our nation’s public lands.

The listening session focused on many of the challenges facing our public lands, yet there was little talk about transferring our public lands. This is a breath of fresh air. Transfer or sale of America’s public lands is not a solution to public land management challenges. The answer is public land users and state and federal agencies working together to craft collaborative solutions for America’s public lands.

 There is recognition on the importance of public lands not only for recreation, ecosystem diversity and timber production, but also the protection of water supplies that feed communities, agricultural and our rivers and streams. This diversity of uses creates management challenges, but in Washington we have proven track record of diverse interests working out complex natural resource issues. For instance, the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a balanced package of actions to address water scarcity issues in ways that will help restore salmon and steelhead fisheries, improve water quality and quantity, and support a healthy agricultural and recreational economy.

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Oct26

Innovative Water Solutions

By Joye Redfield-Wilder
Originally posted at Ecology’s ECOConnect Blog

Irrigators coming together to pay for Yakima watershed projects

It’s a journey that old-timer Ron Van Gundy says started in the late 1970s and early 80s when irrigators were faced with new Clean Water regulations. Too much sediment was being carried to the Yakima River, causing it to turn milk chocolate brown at irrigation outfalls such as Sulphur Creek near Sunnyside.

ron-vangundy

Ron Van Gundy

Their response: switch from flooding fields with water to installing sprinkler and drip irrigation to prevent sediment runoff and pesticide pollution to the Yakima River. The benefits of their actions were twofold – an 85 percent improvement in water quality and conservation of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water precious to the agricultural economy in the face of drought and climate change..

Cooperation, not fighting
Today, those same irrigators with their once adversaries are helping to implement one of the nation’s largest water and environmental enhancement projects under the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Plan.

The goal: to meet water needs for families, farms, forests and fish without fighting. The efforts begun decades ago helped irrigators get through the drought of 2015 and set the stage for success through the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Where factions have traditionally lawyered up and met only in the courtroom, these same parties, known collectively as the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Workgroup, log many miles together pitching their approach to state legislators at home and Congressmen on the Hill in Washington, D.C. They’ve gained recognition in the halls of the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture, where WaterSMART watershed management approaches are touted.

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