By Michael Garrity, American Rivers
A great deal has occurred since our last update – all of it good news for the health of the Yakima Basin’s environment and economy.
On the final day of June 2013, Governor Jay Inslee signed a budget bill that provided $132 million to ratify and begin implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. As part of the bill, the state purchased 50,000 acres of former private timberland in the legendary Teanaway River Valley, funded water conservation and habitat restoration in places like Manastash Creek, and will make fish passage and water storage improvements at Cle Elum and Kachess reservoirs “construction ready” by 2015.
The success at the state level has set the stage for local and federal government funding work. The priorities for the first ten years of the Integrated Plan (“Initial Development Phase”) will build on what the state legislature funded including:
— Fish passage at Cle Elum Dam and one other water storage dam in the basin (to be determined after additional study);
— Additional land acquisition and protection including the former private timberland in the Teanaway and future acquisitions;
— Habitat restoration, including floodplain and meadow restoration and revegetation of riparian areas;
— Raising Cle Elum Reservoir by three feet, accessing more water stored behind Kachess Dam during drought years for farms, communities, and instream flow, and building a tunnel between Keechelus and Kachess reservoirs to improve river flows and ensure more rapid refill of Kachess Reservoir;
— Water conservation projects to reduce water diversions from the Yakima and Naches rivers, conserving about 85,000 acre feet of water; and
— Determining which major water storage project (Bumping Reservoir enlargement or Wymer Reservoir) will be pursued in Phase 2 – the second 10-year phase — of the Yakima Integrated Plan.
The cost of the approximately 10-year-long first phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is estimated at $739 million to $898 million, including the $132 million already provided by the State of Washington. Funding and implementing this initial phase on time will require federal funding and legislation combined with private and local contributions, as well as additional state funds. Given the importance of the Yakima Basin to Washington’s economy, recreation and environmental health, it’s an investment that is well worth it.