The Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River this week announced that it is initiating preparation of a programmatic “environmental impact statement” for the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.
The “integrated plan” offers a proposed approach to improving water management in central Washington’s Yakima River basin to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat and improve the reliability of the water supply for irrigation, municipal supply and domestic uses.
The total cost of all actions in the plan is approximately $4 billion dollars, according to the draft document. Funding is subject to further review and authorizations at the federal, state and local levels.
If funded, the actions listed would be carried out over a period of approximately 15 to 20 years.
The state agency and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are the joint lead agencies for the EIS process now under way. The EIS is being prepared in accordance with the state Environmental Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The integrated plan was developed from studies initiated in 1979 and culminating in the Yakima River Basin Study, which was conducted through a planning partnership of the Bureau Department of Ecology.
The Yakima River Basin Study was conducted at an appraisal level, which means the targeted level of detail was to provide sufficient information to decide whether to proceed with a more detailed study and evaluation of the integrated plan and other appropriate alternatives. Appraisal studies rely primarily on existing data and information for meeting current and projected needs and problems in an area, and in identifying and evaluating potential solutions.
The development of a more detailed planning document and alternatives evaluation is the next step, combined with preparation of an environmental impact statement to meet SEPA and NEPA requirements at the programmatic level.
The Yakima River basin is affected by a variety of water problems that impact agriculture, fish, and municipal and domestic water supplies. Since at least the 1970s, the basin’s federal, state and local agencies, and Yakama Nation natural resource managers have participated in federal and state planning efforts to identify solutions to water shortages and other problems. Building on previous planning efforts, the Integrated Plan is the most comprehensive effort to date in proposing water resource solutions in the Yakima basin, the agencies say.
Elements of the plan include:
-- Fish passage (fish passage improvements at Cle Elum, Bumping, Clear Lake and consideration of the feasibility of providing passage at Keechelus, Kachess, and Tieton dams);
-- Fish habitat (mainstem floodplain restoration, tributary enhancement, and watershed enhancement programs);
-- Structural/operational changes (Kechelus to Kachess Pipeline and subordination of power generation at Roza and Chandler Power Plants);
-- Surface storage (new Wymer Dam and Reservoir, Bumping Reservoir enlargement, Kachess inactive storage);
-- Groundwater storage (groundwater infiltration prior to storage control);
-- Enhanced water conservation (agricultural water and municipal/domestic conservation); and
-- Market-based reallocation of water resources (institutional improvements to facilitate market-based water transfers).
The Yakima Project is a federal reclamation project authorized by Congress in 1905. It is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and provides irrigation water for land that extends for 175 miles along both sides of the Yakima River in south-central Washington serving a total of approximately 464,000 acres.
Storage dams and reservoirs on the project are Bumping Lake, Clear Creek, Tieton, Cle Elum, Kachess, and Keechelus. Other project features are five diversion dams, canals, laterals, pumping plants, drains, two powerplants, and electrical transmission lines.
The Yakima River historically supported large runs of anadromous salmonids, with estimated runs of 300,000 to 960,000 fish a year in the 1880s. These numbers have declined drastically, and three salmon species were extirpated (eliminated) from the basin – sockeye, summer chinook, and coho, according to the draft plan. There are many causes of the declines and extirpations, including habitat blockage by dams and dewatered tributaries; degradation of the floodplain, side channel and tributary habitat; and alteration of stream flow by water storage and irrigation delivery operations and diversions.
In 2003 at the direction from Congress and the Washington Legislature, the state and federal agencies initiated the Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study to examine the feasibility and acceptability of storage augmentation in the Yakima basin, with an emphasis on a proposed Black Rock Reservoir. That alternative, among others, would have used Columbia River water in exchange for Yakima River water to provide additional water storage to benefit threatened and endangered fish species, irrigated agriculture, and municipal and industrial water supply.
A final Bureau EIS completed in December 2008 concluded that none of the action alternatives evaluated met federal criteria for an economically and environmentally sound water project and recommended the “No Action Alternative” as the preferred alternative.
“While the Black Rock and other alternatives would have provided significant benefits, Reclamation determined that the associated impacts and costs did not justify moving forward with any of the evaluated alternatives,” the draft integrated plan says. “In April 2009, Reclamation wrote a concluding letter to Ecology terminating the Storage Study.”
Based on the comments received on the storage study EIS, the state agency began a separate evaluation of an alternative solution to the Yakima basin's water supply problems, including consideration of aquatic habitat and fish passage needs. That and related processes led to the development of the draft integrated plan and EIS now offered for public comment.
Agencies, affected tribes and members of the public are invited to comment on the scope of the integrated plan EIS. Comment on alternatives, mitigation measures, probable significant adverse impacts and licenses or other approvals that may be required are welcome.
Written comments will be accepted through May 19. Send written scoping comments, requests to be added to the mailing list, or requests for sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired or other special assistance needs, to:
Bureau of Reclamation, Columbia-Cascades Area Office
Attention: Candace McKinley, Environmental Program manager,
1917 Marsh Road
Yakima, WA 98901;
or by e-mail to email@example.com.
Scoping open houses will be held at the following communities, dates, and times:
-- Ellensburg, Hal Holmes Center, 209 N. Ruby St.; May 3, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and again from 5to 7 p.m.
-- Yakima; Yakima Area Arboretum, 1401 Arboretum Way; May 5; 1:30 to 3:30 pm and again from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
Requests for sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired or other special assistance needs should be submitted by April 2611 to Candace McKinley, Environmental Program manager, Telephone (509) 575-5848, ext. 237. TTY users may dial 711 to obtain a toll-free TTY relay.
Documents and other information can be found at:
-- Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/images/pdf/ProposedIPlanDraft.pdf
-- Determination of Significance and Request for Comments on Scope of EIS for the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/images/pdf/YakimaIntegratePlanDS.pdf
-- Reclamation’s YRBWEP Web Site: http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/index.html
-- OCR’s YRBWEP Web Site: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/cr_yak_storage.html