The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is rooted in 30 years of collaboration, negotiation, and compromise. In response to legal challenges involving water rights in 1977, Congress authorized the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project in 1979 to find a balance between water users and pursue a variety of tools to manage demand. In the 1980s, frustration escalated as junior water rights holders saw their water deliveries reduced by two-thirds, significantly impacting crop vitality and economic return. Drought conditions, increasing agricultural demand, and competition for water by other users intensified the need to find a solution to the water problem.
While some progress was made through water conservation and hatchery programs throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, efforts did not adequately meet the needs of various basin interests. In 2009, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project got a needed boost due to the passage of the Secure Waters Act in 2008. The law authorizes federal water and science agencies to work together with state and local water managers to plan for climate change and the other threats to water supplies, and take action to secure water resources for the communities, economies, and ecosystems they support.
In 2009, the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Ecology formed the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Work Group, composed of representatives from the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, environmental organizations, and federal, state, county and city governments, to develop a consensus-based solution to the basin’s water problem. From 2009 to 2011, the Work Group developed the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.
The Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, a forward-thinking plan to address current and future water needs in the basin, was formally supported by the Work Group in March 2011. The plan provides a balanced approach to address water shortages through increased water storage, enhanced water conservation, water marketing, and better use of existing infrastructure. The plan also improves the overall ecological integrity of the Yakima basin by protecting and enhancing riparian and headwaters habitat, providing fish passage at reservoirs, and making targeted land acquisitions on a willing-seller basis. In November 2011, the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was released for public comment.
In March 2012, the Bureau of Reclamation and Washington State Department of Ecology released the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (Integrated Plan). The Integrated Plan Alternative was selected as the Preferred Alternative.
What’s in the Plan?
From the Final PEIS:
The Integrated Plan includes seven elements: reservoir fish passage, structural and operational changes to existing facilities, surface water storage, groundwater storage, habitat/watershed protection and enhancement, enhanced water conservation, and market reallocation. The Integrated Plan was developed to address a variety of water resource and ecosystem problems affecting fish passage and habitat and agricultural, municipal, and domestic water supplies.
The Final PEIS does not analyze project-specific environmental impacts or provide project-specific details. Any project within the PEIS selected for implementation must go through project-specific analyses. The Bureau of Reclamation and Washington state will begin studies in fiscal year 2012. The Yakima Integrated Plan Work Group will identify project priorities as the implementation of the Integrated Plan moves forward.