By Michael Garrity, American Rivers
Abundant snowfall in March has all but guaranteed the Yakima Basin’s fish and farms a decent supply of water both instream and out-of-stream this year. The Bureau of Reclamation announced last week that it expects full water deliveries to Yakima Basin irrigators this spring and summer. While this is good news for the Yakima’s fish and farmers, the basin’s future snowpack is expected to shrink and melt off sooner.
According to the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, under a moderately pessimistic greenhouse gas emissions scenario (though not the worst one with the highest emissions, and perhaps even overly optimistic given society’s failure so far to get emissions under control), water shortages in the Yakima Basin are expected to go from 14% of years historically to 36% by the 2040s, and 77% by the 2080s.
The pressing need to prepare and respond to this predicted change is one of many reasons why the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan makes sense – the Integrated Plan will improve and protect habitat, provide salmon and steelhead with access to cold, high elevation habitat in the Cascade Mountains, and improve flows in key river reaches in both wet and dry years.