Tri-City Herald: Yakima River proposal expensive but essential

By Editorial Board

Tri-City Herald

March 11, 2012

We were encouraged in September, when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar helped shine a national spotlight on the Yakima River Basin’s water problems.

The release earlier this month of a comprehensive plan to address the issue creates more reason for optimism.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s and Washington Department of Ecology’s final programmatic environmental impact statement lays out a $4 billion proposal to address the basin’s environmental issues and perennial water shortages.

It’s a lot of money, but the future of one of the state’s most productive agricultural region’s depends on addressing the complex problems plaguing the basin.

Farming in the Yakima Valley generates $1 billion a year in business, creates thousands of jobs and produces one of the most diverse array of commercial crops in the world.

Hay, mint, apples, cherries, peaches, pears, asparagus, potatoes, grapes and more are grown in the valley. Most beer lovers already know that most of the nation’s hop production depends on the Yakima River.

In a nutshell — the Yakima River is a resource worth saving, even at $4 billion.

In drought years, farmers holding junior water rights are lucky to get enough water to keep their orchards and vineyards alive.

The basin has suffered five major droughts in 19 years, and climate scientists predict more frequent and severe shortages as warming trends reduce the snowpacks that feed the Yakima River.

This Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan offers a comprehensive solution to a complex set of problems.

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