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Irrigators get new water source

Dan Wheat
A project saving water for salmon is giving a small group of landowners near Cowiche and Tieton, Wash., a new source of irrigation water.

COWICHE, Wash. — Owners of pastures and hay fields in Upper Cowiche Canyon are beginning the irrigation season with a new source of water.

A $1.8 million project that’s been 10 years in the making will enable them to get water from Tieton River instead of Cowiche Creek, saving creek flow for salmon. A deal to do that was spearheaded by the North Yakima Conservation District and Trout Unlimited.

“Maintaining our community’s agricultural needs and culture while finding opportunity for salmon recovery is what this is all about,” said Michael Tobin, manager of the North Yakima Conservation District.

“Every landowner, project partner and natural resource will benefit from this project for many years to come,” he said.

Irrigation diversions dewatered stretches of the creek in summer and early fall for years, drying up in-stream habitat and blocking fish passage, said Lisa Pelly, director of Trout Unlimited’s Washington Water Project.

Trout Unlimited began working on solutions 10 years ago and in 2012 the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Department of Ecology and Bonneville Power Administration approved funding, Pelly said. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation also contributed to the financing, she said.

Landowners worked with Trout Unlimited to place their water rights into the Department of Ecology’s water trust program, Tobin said. They worked with DOE to establish a new water right out of the Tieton River, which is a different watershed, he said.

An existing Yakima-Tieton Irrigation District pipe carries water to the area where nine landowners formed the new Cowiche Creek Water Users Association and installed pipe to supply water to each of the properties, Tobin said. The nine landowners have 15 water rights that serve 395 acres, he said.

Construction started in January and finished in late March. Water was to begin flowing through the new system on April 10. Construction cost $694,000. There was a one-time payment of $500,000 to the Yakima-Tieton Irrigation District to help pay its costs and the remaining $600,000 went for water right transfers, Pelly said.

Cowiche Creek is deemed important for steelhead recovery by state, federal and tribal biologists and benefits Coho and Chinook salmon. The project is intended to ensure up to 7.9 cubic feet per second of flow during low flow periods in the south fork and mainstem of Cowiche Creek.

Cooperative projects like this increase the possibility of delisting steelhead, and are what the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is all about, Pelly said.

Other partners in the project are: the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Yakama Nation, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Conservation Commission.

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