By Kate Prengaman
October 2, 2013
CLE ELUM — Conservative county commissioners chatted with environmentalists and irrigators joked with Yakama Nation scientists Tuesday as the unlikely allies gathered to celebrate the establishment of the Teanaway Community Forest, the first step in a groundbreaking water management plan.
The 50,000 acres of former private timber land surrounding the Teanaway River was officially purchased by the state this week as part of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, which calls for new water storage, fish passages and habitat restoration work over the next 30 years. It’s the state’s largest land acquisition in four decades.
While detractors worry about the plan’s $4 billion cost, including $97 million for the Teanaway purchase, supporters say the property is a pivotal piece of their balanced, comprehensive plan.
“If the Integrated Plan was going to achieve its goal of being as much about protecting the environment as the economy, it had to protect lands like this,” said Jeff Tayer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “To protect the water supply, you’ve got to protect the watershed.”
Tayer calls the Teanaway River the basin’s most important tributary for protection and restoration. The land was at risk of being subdivided and sold for development, which would have meant more water withdrawals from the river system and damage to the habitat.