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Yakima Basin Integrated Plan legislation advances through U.S. Senate committee

SEATTLE – Today federal legislation to protect and enhance the Yakima River basin’s fisheries, ecosystem and water supply was unanimously passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The passage of S. 1694 – known as The Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2015 — through committee represents a milestone for this legislation, which authorizes a federal role in the implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan’s fishery and water management decisions. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Proponents of the legislation anticipate that a companion bill will soon be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Yakima Plan is a balanced approach agreed upon by a diverse coalition of conservation groups, irrigators, farmers, sportsmen and women, local, state and federal governments, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. S. 1694 authorizes federal involvement in projects that improve water security for farmers through water conservation, water marketing, and more access to water stored in an existing reservoir during drought years. The bill also authorizes projects to restore fish passage at two federal reservoirs and to protect and restore habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

“Senator Cantwell’s leadership will help restore abundant salmon and steelhead runs in the Yakima Basin, including in its wilderness headwaters,” said Michael Garrity, American Rivers’ Director of Rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin. “This legislation is a win-win for the Yakima Basin’s fish, families and farms.”

S. 1694 expands upon past phases of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which focused on fish passage and water efficiencies, and recent land conservation actions funded by the State of Washington through the Yakima Plan.

“The Yakima Plan is a model for integrated water management and climate resiliency that reduces drought impacts, protects our public lands as well as waters, and considers farmers, fish and families equally,” said Ben Greuel, Washington State Director for The Wilderness Society. “The partnerships we’ve created make us more adaptable when faced with a changing climate. Congressional recognition and support of that flexibility gives me hope to see similar integrated planning efforts, and successes, across the west.”

A drought last summer in the Yakima Basin highlighted the value of the Yakima Plan’s fish and wildlife habitat and water management measures.  The partnerships built through the plan resulted in rapid action to provide flow in streams that would have otherwise run dry, securing important habitat for salmon and steelhead.

“This year we’ve seen amazing partnerships and cooperation forming around water use in the Yakima Basin,” said Lisa Pelly, Director of the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited. “By working together, we’ve kept farmers afloat and enough water in the rivers for fish and wildlife. This legislation will guarantee that kind of innovative management in the future, and we are truly grateful to Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray for their visionary support.”-189



Despite Drought, Long-term Outlook is Bright for Yakima Basin

by Michael Garrity, American RiversCle Elum River_Garrity

A hot, dry summer and lack of winter snowpack are causing severe hardship for the Yakima River basin’s fish and farmers this year, but the basin’s long-term outlook just got a lot brighter with big wins at the state and federal levels.

On the final day of June, the Washington State Legislature committed $30 million in state funding to the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan over the next two years. This funding will allow for construction of adult fish passage at Cle Elum Dam, a study of fish passage at Tieton Dam, final design of the Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant, and $10 million worth of fish habitat restoration and water conservation projects. 

Then, on July 1st, Sen. Maria Cantwell introduced S. 1694, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2015. The bill, which received a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on July 7th, authorizes the first 10-year phase of the Yakima Plan.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray.

Highlights of the plan’s first 10 years include:

  • Fish passage at Cle Elum and Tieton dams;
  • Lake Kachess Reservoir Drought Relief Pumping Plant, with construction and operation financed by water users rather than taxpayers (no other surface water storage projects are authorized by the legislation);
  • 85,000 acre-feet of water conservation (that’s nearly three Bumping Lake reservoirs worth of water saved);
  • Habitat restoration projects including mainstem Yakima River floodplain restoration, meadow restoration in the Teanaway Valley and elsewhere, barrier removals, and projects to get roads out of floodplains;
  • Groundwater storage projects that will provide cooler, more plentiful streamflows and reduce the need for new surface water storage;
  • Enhanced water markets; and
  • Protection of 50,000 acres in the Teanaway River Valley as a Community Forest (already accomplished) and designation of the upper Cle Elum River system as Wild and Scenic (to be accomplished through separate legislation after working with local communities to finalize a river protection plan).

The end result of these actions will be abundant salmon and steelhead runs, including a large sockeye salmon run, better instream flows for trout fishing and boating, healthier riparian areas for wildlife, and a more reliable water supply for farms and communities – even in the face of the local impacts of climate change.

It’s worth highlighting the commitment of irrigation districts and other water users to finance the construction of the Kachess Pumping Plant on their own.  This unique approach means water users will need to calculate for themselves the value of additional drought-year water supplies, and it removes the kind of artificial taxpayer subsidies that have led to many regrettable water projects in the 20th century.

Take a minute (or 60) to watch the July 7th hearing – as Chairwoman Murkowski noted, it’s not often you see representatives of an irrigation district, a Native American Tribe, American Rivers, and state and federal officials in such close agreement on major water and fisheries restoration issues.

And while the Yakima River Basin is solving its water problems without resorting to the out-of-basin water importing schemes of the past, other river basins around the western U.S. would be wise to import the Yakima Basin’s collaborative, pragmatic approach to solving challenges facing fish, rivers, farms, and communities.

Watch a new film about the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and take action to protect and restore the Yakima’s flows and fish at!



The Next 10 Years: Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Update

By Michael Garrity, American Rivers

West Fork Teanaway River

Exploring the West Fork Teanaway River.

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,

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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

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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.


The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan – Gearing up for 2013

by Cynthia Wilkerson, The Wilderness Society

As we bid adieu to 2012, it is a good time to celebrate the success and momentum of the past year and to look forward to more progress in 2013 for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.


In 2012, our Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign focused its work on raising awareness and support for the Integrated Plan. The Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement came out in March detailing the major components of the Plan. Our collective efforts with the YBIP Implementation Committee resulted in over 15 letters of support or resolutions from in-basin and statewide organizations, as well as in-basin municipalities for the goals, framework and process to move the Integrated Plan forward. We also spent time talking with federal and state decision makers about the broad-based support for the Integrated Plan, the concept of forming a Washington DC Leadership Team of federal agencies, headed up by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, to assist in moving the Plan forward at the federal level.

As 2013 dawns, we are excited to report that the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is already moving into the state legislative session in Olympia. Representatives Chandler, Blake, Warnick, and Tharinger have cosponsored H.B. 1196, requested by the State Department

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of Ecology. The bill concerns support for the overall Integrated Plan and has its first hearing in the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee next week. We also expect to be working on a

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Capitol budget request to kick off a major contribution of state funds for the Integrated Plan in this session. Outgoing Governor Chris

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Gregoire included $20.9 million in funds in her final budget and newly sworn in Governor Jay Inslee clearly expressed his commitment to the Integrated Plan as the number one agricultural jobs priority during his campaign.

The Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign is also looking forward to the next round of discussions at the Watershed Lands Subcommittee to utilize all of the outreach and input we’ve received in 2012 into the refinement of a Lands Package.

More great progress to come and we’ll keep you informed!



Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign Monthly Update – Building Momentum

By Cynthia Wilkerson – The Wilderness Society


Since the last update, we‘ve been busy building momentum and support for the Integrated Plan and researching some critical aspects and opportunities.

Michael Garrity of American Rivers, traveled to D.C. with partners from the Yakama Nation, county commissions, Washington State Department of Ecology, and farmers to continue to

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raise awareness of the plan and ask for support for early implementation actions, such as fish passage at Lake Cle Elum and assessment of technical issues with the Bumping and Wymer dams.

Locally, we’re teaming up with this same cross-section of folks to seek endorsements for the framework of the plan. Key support in the past month has

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come from the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce and the Mountains to Sound Greenway. Another critical development in terms of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan collaboration is that the U.S. Forest Service has formally joined the Integrated Plan’s Work Group.

Finally, we have been making progress with our public lands partners in exploring how to create a robust and balanced lands protection package that protects and

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restores underlying watershed values, such as wildlife habitat and clean drinking water, and allows for balanced recreation opportunities for a diverse set of users that are compatible with the needs of the forests and rivers.

Stay tuned for further progress and work to protect the Yakima Basin for fish, farms and families continues.

Fish. Families. Farms.
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