Yakima County Development Association - Sustaining Water Supply Will Demand Change and Persistance

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 



Sustaining Water Supply Will Demand Change and Persistance

Sustaining Water Supply Will Demand Change and Persistance

July 16, 2012

At our recent New Vision Board forum in Grandview we learned more about plans to sustain Central Washington's water supply.  Derek Sandison with the Department of Ecology's Office of the Columbia River talked about unfolding efforts to invest billions behind conservation, fish passage and water storage projects within the region.  Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita also addressed our group, suggesting that it's a new day for water management in Central Washington.

Sandison cited that the Yakima Basin is supported by five resrvoirs that are managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.  Unfortunately fish passage channels were not installed on local dams so salmon runs have been wiped out or greatly diminished.  Another challenge is that the region's water supply depends heavily on snowpack.  Even with the reservoirs catching water, draughts have occured five times over the last 20 years.  In some years, junior irrigation districts have only received 37 percent of their normal water allotments.

A big and related issue is that recent studies have shown continuity between groundwater and surface water supplies.  A resulting moratorium on new development has already impacted the upper Kittitas County area as regulators have moved to protect senior water right holders.  Sandison said that water supplies in Central Washington have been over appropriated for decades.  The courts have worked to resolve water right issues but there are still too many users dependent on a sporadic water supply.

Endangered species, frequent draughts, and limits on surface and groundwater are prompting local leaders to think big.   A broad based group involving irrigators, local government, the Yakama Nation, environmental interests, and state and federal agencies has been working over the last three years to develop a plan that would both enhance the natural environment and sustain water supplies in Central Washington.  This integrated plan will cost over $4 billion and take years to implement.  The initiative focuses on enhanced conservation, additional reservoir storage, and habitat/watershed protection.

Conservation will involve lining and piping irrigation canals.  Efforts will also be made to reduce seepage and evaporation.  Cities will also be asked to help by promoting efficient landscaping  and expanding education/incentives to encourage voluntary conservation.  Sandison said that conservation is an important element in the overall plan, but by itself it cannot resolve the region's water issues.

New or larger dams are also part of the plan.  Enlarging Bumping Lake reservoir, building a dam and pump station at Wymer canyon, and establishing a pipeline between Lakes Kachess and Keechelus will all add to the region's water storage capacity.  Fish passage will be added to all the dams in Central Washington.  This will help protect salmon and bullhead trout and also support the Yakima Nation's reintroduction of sockeye runs.

A final element of the plan involves protecting water sheds through land acquisition.   Approximately 70,000 acres in Yakima and Kittitas Counties are  targeted for purchase in order to protect key headwaters and habitat.

No doubt about it the plan is aggressive.  It's also a game changer.  The plan represents the first time a diverse group of interests have agreed on an approach to sustain water in Central Washington.  Mike Leita said the team pushing the plan in Washington D.C. has really turned heads because beltway staffers and elected officials have not ever seen such broad based cooperation around the region's water supply.  Leita cautioned that plan investments will take years to implement and the coalition must stay together to ensure the intiative is funded and fully implemented.

Everyone in our audience knew that water is the lifeblood of our Central Washington communities.  We learned that much needs to be done to sustain our water supply within the region.  Most of us also realized that we have a personal stake in the region's future water supply.  Gone are the days when we think abstractly that water simply flows on demand from a faucet.  There is a growing awareness that we all can make a difference by using water much more wisely and supporting bigger picture efforts to sustain our Valley's water resources.

To keep abreast of our region's water sustainability efforts please visit the following webpage:  http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/cr_yak_storage.html.


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