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First Yakima water project underway

Dan Wheat
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee celebrated the first construction project of Yakima River water enhancement effort while U.S. House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings held a hearing on funding more Yakima projects.

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee celebrated the first construction project of the 30-year, $4 billion Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan by calling it an “all Washington and all American project.”

“We’re on the banks of Manastash Creek and Manastash is a tribal word that means a great place to make state and federal investments,” Inslee said drawing laughter from about 200 officials, farmers and environmentalists. The governor’s Oct. 29 event was six miles west of Ellensburg.

“Everyone knows we have the best hay and salmon and now the best sense of team-building, of consensus to reach a way forward,” Inslee said, noting he’s proud a bill implementing the plan was his first requested legislation as governor.

Tom Iseman, U.S. Department of Interior deputy assistant secretary for water and science, was accompanied by officials of other federal agencies who toured reservoirs involved in the plan and discussed future funding.

“We recognize this doesn’t come easy and appreciate the balanced approach, broad stakeholder support and community investment,” Iseman said. The plan is a model and aligns with the Interior secretary’s priorities of protecting wildlife and water, he said.

The same day, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., held a hearing in Washington, D.C., on increasing water storage and hydropower. Derek Sandison, director of the Office of Columbia River for the Washington State Department of Ecology, testified on the need for more water storage in the Yakima Basin. Hastings said it’s a top priority.

Urban Eberhart, an Ellensburg hay and tree fruit grower and board member of the Kittitas Reclamation District, led the Iseman tour and presided at the governor’s event.

Irrigators, farmers, environmentalists, the Yakama Nation and government agencies fought for years over often insufficient water supply in the basin.

“We didn’t use to talk to irrigators without our attorneys,” said Dave Fast, senior research scientist of the Yakama Nation.

But when plans to build a $3 billion, 1.3 million-acre-feet Black Rock Reservoir failed for lack of consensus and return on the dollar, parties began working together and arrived at the integrated plan that does more for fish than Black Rock while still improving irrigation, Fast said.

Cities, farms and fish in the 6,155-square-mile Yakima 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.

By enhancing reservoirs and adding a new one, the plan could provide 560,800 acre-feet of additional water with the goal of providing junior water right holders 70 percent of supply in drought years.

The $3.8 million Manastash Creek project is the first step but a relatively small project in the plan. It converts 3.2 miles of unlined irrigation ditch of the Kittitas Reclamation District to a pressurized pipeline and switches the source from the creek to a district canal fed by the Yakima River upstream from the creek. An estimated annual savings of 1,300 acre-feet of water in the creek will increase flow an average of 4 to 5 cubic feet per second, keeping a 3.25-mile segment of the creek from being seasonally dewatered by irrigation withdrawals and opening about 25 miles of habitat for steelhead, coho, bull trout and spring chinook. The creek irrigates about 4,500 acres of farmland.

The project, funded with $2.8 million from the state and $1 million from the federal government, began in September and is scheduled for completion in the spring, before the next irrigation season.



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