Excessive allocation, pumping reduce river's flow


Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- Water users in the Yakima River region face problems on par with those in the Klamath Basin, a Washington state water official says.

Derek Sandison of the state Department of Ecology told legislators Sept. 21 the Yakima River has 1 million acre-feet of capacity, which is about three-quarters of a million acre-feet short of total demand.

A a result of the mis allocation, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water clients get only 37 to 38 percent of their water allotments.

"These are serious, Klamath Basin kind of issues we're dealing with," he said.

Competing interests in the Klamath Basin create inadequate irrigation water supplies during dry years.

In the Yakima Basin, the problem is an Over allocation to water users and groundwater pumping that reduces the river flow, officials said.

The state House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources heard preliminary results of a U.S. Geological Survey commissioned in 1999 by Ecology, the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

"The numbers are sobering," Ecology's water resources program manager Ken Slattery said. "Groundwater pumping and depletion of this magnitude means there's less water available to meet federally mandated target streamflows (for fish returns) and the irrigation delivery obligations in the basin."

Sandison said agriculture in the Yakima Basin, much of it dependent on irrigation, has a considerable economic impact. A half-million acres of irrigated farmland generates about $3.4 billion in ag value.

"This is the most important agricultural area in the state as far as one single basin goes," he said.

Sandison said the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, a coalition of governments, agencies and environmental groups, plans to present an integrated plan by December calling for more storage and more conservation.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, said he is concerned that more attention is being paid to conservation efforts -- "which some would call rationing."

"How is this different than the programs we've tried in the past? ... Is new storage being evaluated on the same scorecard, the same criteria as all other options?" he asked.

"I'll say 'yes' to that," Sandison said. "We've looked at this as being a package."

He said members of the coalition have differences in philosophy between proposing one big storage project or several small ones. The near-term target of 400,000 additional acre-feet of storage would provide 70 percent of proratable levels.

The U.S. Geological Survey research will be used to estimate when and by how much groundwater pumping is reducing surface water supplies.

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