by Yakima Herald Editorial Board
Decades in the making, the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is notable for the way it has brought together oft-conflicting interest groups. The plan entails compromise — a toxic word in polarized political times — but the compromise has offered something for the many involved parties. Among them are agriculture, irrigators, the Yakama Nation, fishing interests, environmental groups, and local, county and state governments.
And now, the plan is finding favor at the highest level of the federal government, in large part because of that compromise.
The integrated plan took center stage Tuesday at the White House Water Summit in Washington, D.C. The Family Farm Alliance, an agriculture industry group that is based in Oregon, pointed to the integrated plan as an example of local water-use solutions that can serve as a model at the national level.
The integrated plan wasn’t the only Central Washington water project gaining attention at the summit. The Methow Instream Flow Improvement Project also won praise for overcoming years of squabbling and finding common ground between environmental and economic interests.
The Family Farm Alliance, in a report that was presented at the summit, says its main objective as an organization “is to help ensure the continued availability of adequate irrigation water supplies to Western farmers.” The report publicizes “case studies that highlight real-world examples of water conservation, water transfers and markets, aging infrastructure problems, watershed restoration and ecosystem enhancement.”
To those ends, the Yakima Basin plan won plaudits for collaboration, ecosystem restoration and new storage. In the words of the report, “The solutions put forward by the Yakima Plan restore ecosystem functions, increase fish habitat and population recovery, improve the stability of stream flows and ensure the reliability of agricultural irrigation and municipal water supply. (The plan) was developed through a collaborative public process where stakeholders weighed their needs versus their wants, came to understand the views of their traditional opposition, and negotiated to reach a consensus.”
Right to left: Tom Tebb, WA Dept. of Ecology Director of the Office of Columbia River, and Urban Eberhard, Kittitas Reclamation District Manager, on their way to the White House Water Summit
The report also highlighted the Kittitas Reclamation District’s response to last summer’s historic drought, especially through its rerouting of water meant for downstream users into nine dry tributaries.
The alliance’s report notes not only the benefit to the tributaries’ habitat, but also how the reclamation district worked with irrigation districts, the state Department of Ecology, the Yakama Nation, the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife and Trout Unlimited.
This recognition comes at a key time for the project at the federal level. Washington’s U.S. senators, Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and 4th District Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse have introduced bills to provide federal funding for the $4 billion project, and that stands to be a tough sell in tight fiscal times.
This recognition shines a light on the extensive groundwork that has gone into the plan, as well as the support among the many stakeholders. All these are essential to winning federal support.
The plaudits are well-deserved and well-timed. The benefits of the integrated plan are obvious to residents and businesses in the Yakima Basin; now it’s time for Congress to take notice.
Originally published by the Yakima Herald, March 24, 2016.