YAKIMA, Wash. — Projects that are part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will compete for nearly $400 million in federal funding in 2014 through a new conservation program.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program on May 27. It combines four previous programs into one through the 2014 Farm Bill and provides $1.2 billion in funding over five years to be matched by $1.2 billion from state or private funds. The program will assist voluntary, locally driven efforts on private lands, including water quality restoration, drought mitigation, flood prevention and habitat revitalization. The $400 million is in the first year.
In his announcement, Vilsack listed the Columbia River Basin as one of eight critical conservation areas in the nation, making projects in it eligible for the funds.
“We’re really excited that the secretary selected the Columbia Basin watershed as one of the critical conservation areas,” Urban Eberhart, an Ellensburg hay and tree fruit grower and board member of the Kittitas Reclamation District, told Capital Press.
“This is unprecedented. We’ve never been selected for anything like this,” he said.
The 30-year, $4 billion Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is intended to boost habitat and water in the Yakima River Basin for fish while providing an additional 560,800 acre-feet of water through greater storage for irrigators. The goal is to provide junior water right holders 70 percent of supply in drought years.
Cities, farms and fish in the 6,155-square-mile basin need 3 million acre-feet of water annually. Of that, 1 million acre-feet is captured and used from reservoirs and the rest comes from snowpack runoff into the Yakima River that isn’t stored. Irrigators use 1.7 million acre-feet. The basin’s annual agricultural economic value, farmgate and processed, is estimated at $3.5 billion.
Eberhart is involved with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Implementation Committee which will be submitting pre-proposals for funding by July 14 and full proposals by Sept. 26.
Other members of the Yakima Basin committee, Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita and Lisa Pelly of Trout Unlimited, in a news release heralded the Columbia Basin listing as a key to funding of Yakima Basin projects.
Individual farm habitat and irrigation improvement projects and irrigation district projects similar to last fall’s $3.8 million Manastash Creek project will be eligible to compete, Eberhart said.
The Manastash project converted 3.2 miles of unlined irrigation ditch to a pressurized pipeline to save water and keep a portion of the creek from being dewatered by irrigation withdrawals.
“There is so much more to do in the Tieton, Cowiche and Yakima basin with projects and on-farm conservation through conservation districts,” Eberhart said.
Tributaries to the Columbia in Idaho and Oregon are included in the eligibility area, he said.
The other seven critical conservation areas include the California Bay Delta, the Colorado River Basin, Prairie Grasslands, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River and Longleaf Pine Range.