District works with ranch on fish screen
By Erick Peterson
For the Capital Press
Mark Herke in Yakima, Wash., credits the North Yakima Conservation District with helping him avoid a potential problem.
He works on Herke Ranch, which is owned by his father, John Herke. Founded in 1871 by his great-grandfather, the Herke Ranch has 1,900 acres and 155 cows. A diversified operation, it also crushes rock in a rock pit on the property and harvests timber.
The ranch is on Ahtanum Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River. As such, he must worry about endangered steelhead and bulltrout ending up in his fields.
Operations that are found to harm fish habitat are subject to a lawsuit.
One by one, his neighbors have installed fish screens to keep the fish out of their irrigation water and thus avoid litigation. Now it is his turn, and he said he is happy to have a partner in the North Yakima Conservation District.
“I’m enthusiastic about being able to keep water irrigation rights,” he said. “If we’re not screened at some point, the big hammer (enforcement) is going to come down on our heads.”
The advantage of doing this now, rather than waiting, is that he can now get help. The district has obtained help from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to pay for the screening.
His cash cost to date has been zero.
Michael Tobin, manager of the North Yakima Conservation District, said the project has cost $251,000, which includes engineering and design, permitting and construction, and it is one of half a dozen screens recently installed in his area. The district has also installed pump screens to replace ones that do not comply with current laws.
The Herke Ranch project is nearly finished, with the only remaining element being the installment of a ramp flume that measures the landowner’s water rights for use. And Tobin is glad to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s exciting to see projects like this constructed with willing landowners that provide true win-win scenarios,” Tobin said.
He explained that the project brought together two previously unscreened gravity diversions into a single diversion that would be handled with a modular rotary drum screen.
After creating this consolidated diversion, contractors created a roughened channel. This was completed last October and gives passage to fish and other aquatic organisms.
It was a project that involved much construction, the transportation of boulders and even the dewatering of the stream as much of this work was taking place.
While it was his district and others that got this work done, Tobin said that Herke would be responsible to keep it free of debris and operational.
“That will be his responsibility, his cost of this project,” Tobin said. “But he’s been a great partner so far, and it’s something that he will want to do.”