At $2.1 million, the Manashtash Creek Restoration Project is the most expensive work undertaken by the Kittitas County Conservation District.
Still, according to Anna Lael, district manager, this project, which is adding fish screens to local waterways, has great value. It will protect fish from being diverted into irrigation ditches and farmers from potential litigation.
Lael traces the history of the project to 1999, when the Mid-Columbia summer steelhead was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“Everyone was really nervous,” Lael said.
Several irrigation diversions along Manashtash Creek did not have fish screens, which would keep the steelhead in the creek. This situation could have led to the fish dying, for which the irrigators could be fined, according to Lael.
Concerned irrigators gathered in meetings of the Farm Bureau and other organizations to discuss the issue, and then went to the conservation district to get help.
“That group got together, talked and agreed on some tenants,” Lael said. “They would get fish screens in, get the passage barriers out and deal with this reach of Manashtash Creek that goes dry every summer — and that agriculture would remain whole.”
They came to an agreement with environmentalists, and they brought their solution to the state Legislature.
“The legislators were so taken aback that they were seeing environmentalists and ranchers wanting the same thing that they were willing to give anything they wanted,” she said.
In 2010, contractors completed the first two of the diversions and fish screens. The next year they completed another fish screen and fish passage, which left them with moving the Hatfield and Reed diversions and decommissioning the old structures. They will also relocate another diversion and decommission that original structure.
Looking forward to the completion of the project this winter, Lael said she was grateful to all of the participants for their efforts.
Dale Dyk, owner of Mountain Spring Farm, is one of the people who have worked on the project. He grows Timothy, Sudan grass and seed wheat for the export market.
He farms on a combination of leased and owned ground, which includes over 800 acres of irrigated land.
He has been working to install these fish screens for almost 14 years, he said. He served on the Kittitas County Conservation District Board of Supervisors and is a shareholder in the Manastash Water Ditch Association.
He made the first request of the conservation district for help with fish screens on his irrigation diversion.
“We were trying to get ahead of fish issues,” he said. As such, he served on the Manastash Creek Steering Committee through this project.
He said the project has been interesting, as he worked as an ally of environmental groups, and he credits the conservation district for its efforts.
Though he is satisfied with his involvement and the contributions of other people, he is glad their work is reaching an end.
“It’s been a long process. I never thought I’d live long enough to see this done,” he said.