Archive for August, 2015


First reservoir fish passage in the Yakima Basin breaks ground

Members of the Yakama Nation look out over Cle Elum Lake, at its lowest drawdown point this year

by Nicky Pasi, American Rivers

More than a century ago, Yakima River Basin salmon runs ranged between 300,000 to one million fish.  Sockeye, coho, and spring, summer and fall chinook could be found in its waters, alongside steelhead, cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout.  The prominence of salmonids changed abruptly after 1905, when the Bureau of Reclamation began construction on the Yakima Project, five reservoirs that currently irrigate 464,000 acres of farmland. While this system has given rise to a $4.5 billion annual agricultural economy that produces 70% of the nation’s hops and millions of pounds of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and wine grapes, none of the dams included fish passage facilities.  Without access to spawning grounds and key habitat above the reservoirs, salmon populations quickly declined.  Within a few short generations, coho and sockeye salmon had been completely extirpated from the system.

On August 27, 2015, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, along with their partner agencies from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and representatives from state and federal legislators, ceremonially broke ground on the fish passage at Cle Elum Dam.  Tribal leaders spoke in appreciation of the guidance, wisdom and perseverance of past leaders who were no longer present to witness the outcome of their efforts. “They saw the need to build partnerships,” said Phil Rigdon, DNR Deputy Director at the Yakama Nation and Master of Ceremonies for the event, “They knew we needed each other to achieve our goals.”

Phil Rigdon, DNR Deputy Director at the Yakama Nation, addresses the assembly

The Yakama Nation has been working to return sockeye to Cle Elum Lake and the miles of pristine salmon habitat above it since 2009.  One thousand adult sockeye were transplanted from the Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins that summer, followed by increasingly large numbers every successive year.  They flourished and successfully spawned, with juveniles exiting the lake via a temporary flume installed at the dam’s spillway.  80,000 outmigrants were noted at Prosser dam in 2011, 701 of which returned to the Yakima Basin in 2013.  In 2014, 4000 fish were introduced and 4,500 returned, achieving replacement rate.  Biologist projections show that the Yakima Basin has the potential to be one of the largest salmon runs in the lower 48 states if recovery continues. (more…)


A good year to roll out Yakima Basin residential drought plan

by Joye Redfield-Wilder, WA Department of Ecology, Central Regional Communications Manager

Record low flows in Teanaway River, tributary to the Yakima River

Water conservation can make a difference in our communities. Seattle is a national model for water efficiency, despite its rainy climes, and uses the same amount of water yearly that it did in the 1970s.

We know outside irrigation is the largest “consumer” of water in the United States. In the Yakima Valley and across Washington investments to change irrigation practices from flooding a field to sprinklers and drip are a great success.

Sadly, those efforts haven’t been enough. Why? It hasn’t rained in Seattle and the rivers aren’t running high anywhere. Mother Nature didn’t deliver a 10-foot pile of snow to slowly melt like in a typical year. We’re experiencing NOW what could be the new norm 40 years from now.

Record low flows in Teanaway River, tributary to the Yakima River

Large urban areas and farmers have been paying attention and measuring both the environmental and economic costs of droughts. And planning ahead. Now it’s time for the rest of us to consider what we can do and why.

I live in the Yakima Valley, where my grandfather homesteaded on property near White Swan, grew potatoes, sold cream from his dairy cows and raised a large family. Water is the lifeblood of this fertile valley. Our families know acutely when the well runs dry and the pump goes out and the irrigation ditch is unfilled.

Water conservation is a crucial part of how we should address drought. It’s an important component of the Yakima River Basin integrated water management plan that looks to respond to current and future water short years. A fully implemented plan calls for everyone – not just farmers – to cut their water use to 70 percent of normal in a drought. This year, many farmers are getting only 46 percent of normal.

Efficient use of municipal and domestic water throughout the Yakima Basin can make a difference and is spelled out in the plan, using voluntary, incentive-based actions that focus on landscape irrigation and other consumptive uses.

Imagine if each of us decided to lop 30 percent off our summer water bills.

I know many pay a flat fee for their irrigation whether they use it or not. Others draw from private domestic wells. Still, imagine what using 30 percent less water would look like.

What better year than this for us to start examining how residential, commercial, public entities – cities, parks, schools – can improve how water is used and better yet NOT waste water in the first place.

Benton Conservation District Native Plant Garden

Would it mean watering every other day instead of watering for 20 minutes a station EVERYDAY? This year in Kennewick, residents can only water twice a week at 20 minutes per station.

The savings could protect a declining aquifer and your domestic well and mean better water supplies for next year. Predictions are for another dire year. Let’s plan ahead.

How about for school boards and park managers? Can we examine how frequently school yards and ball fields are watered and consult with conservation districts and Washington State University to land on optimum watering schedules that protect kids, but also not waste water? Could it be as simple as changing our watering schedule and sprinkler programs?

How many of us have walked across a soggy field or seen sprinklers watering the sidewalk? How many of us are ‘keeping up with the Jones’ in our yards? I know I’m guilty.

Consider making yours a heritage garden of low-water and native plants that will add beauty and help to respond to drought now and in the future.

This can be a positive experience and not a rude wake-up call. Y’all let’s get on board! Learn more at EPA WaterSense.

Other resources:
Some Washington Irrigation Facts from WSU
Ecology’s water conservation page
Read this article at the WA Department of Ecology’s Water Blog series

Fish. Families. Farms.
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