By Joye Redfield-Wilder
Originally posted at Ecology’s ECOConnect Blog
Irrigators coming together to pay for Yakima watershed projects
It’s a journey that old-timer Ron Van Gundy says started in the late 1970s and early 80s when irrigators were faced with new Clean Water regulations. Too much sediment was being carried to the Yakima River, causing it to turn milk chocolate brown at irrigation outfalls such as Sulphur Creek near Sunnyside.
Ron Van Gundy
Their response: switch from flooding fields with water to installing sprinkler and drip irrigation to prevent sediment runoff and pesticide pollution to the Yakima River. The benefits of their actions were twofold – an 85 percent improvement in water quality and conservation of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water precious to the agricultural economy in the face of drought and climate change..
Cooperation, not fighting
Today, those same irrigators with their once adversaries are helping to implement one of the nation’s largest water and environmental enhancement projects under the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Plan.
The goal: to meet water needs for families, farms, forests and fish without fighting. The efforts begun decades ago helped irrigators get through the drought of 2015 and set the stage for success through the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.
Where factions have traditionally lawyered up and met only in the courtroom, these same parties, known collectively as the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Workgroup, log many miles together pitching their approach to state legislators at home and Congressmen on the Hill in Washington, D.C. They’ve gained recognition in the halls of the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture, where WaterSMART watershed management approaches are touted.