Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said today she is urging congressional and state support for a plan that bolsters water supplies in the Yakima basin and implements “one of the most significant ecological restoration projects undertaken in the West.”
Her statements accompanied the release today of the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s and Washington Department of Ecology’s Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.
The Final PEIS evaluates two alternatives to meet the water supply and ecosystem restoration needs in the Yakima River Basin: 1) the No Action Alternative; and 2) the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan Alternative.
The plan's seven elements include: reservoir fish passage; structural and operational changes to existing facilities; surface water storage; groundwater storage; habitat/watershed protection and enhancement; enhanced water conservation; and market reallocation of water.
The Integrated Plan Alternative is identified in the PEIA as the Preferred Alternative.
“Water is the lifeblood of our state," Gregoire said. "Our communities, our $1 billion agricultural industry and our fish all depend on a reliable source of water to survive and to thrive. I'm very pleased with the progress made by the Department of Ecology and the Bureau of Reclamation to reach agreement on the future of water in the Yakima River Basin. I urge that we move forward and implement this new program - the sooner we're able to provide a constant source of water, the sooner our entire region will benefit."
Last fall, Gregoire joined U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Yakima to garner support for the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan endorsed by a diverse group of water interests.
The plan calls for improving water supplies for the Yakima Basin Irrigation Project and providing fish passage at 100-year-old reservoirs in addition to other fish and habitat enhancements.
In a press release, state officials said The Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan “provides a balanced approach to addressing water shortages through additional surface water and underground water storage, enhanced water conservation, market-based water reallocation, and structural and operational improvements. The plan also improves the Yakima basin's environmental health by protecting and enhancing habitat, providing fish passage at reservoirs, and making targeted land acquisitions on a willing-seller basis.”
The Yakima River Basin stretches from the crest of Snoqualmie Pass to Benton City, where the river drains into the Columbia River. It supports a rich farming base with crops ranging from timothy hay and mint, to perennial apple and cherry and peach orchards, and annual crops of asparagus, potatoes, and row vegetables relying on irrigation.
Increasingly frequent water shortages, coupled with predictions of reduced snowpack due to our changing climate, have brought once conflicting water interests to a common table in support of the plan, say state officials.
In June 2009, Ecology and Reclamation brought representatives from the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, environmental organizations, and federal, state, county, and city governments together to form the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Working Group to help develop a consensus-based solution to the basin's water problems.
The integrated plan includes three components of water management in the Yakima basin --Habitat, Systems Modification, and Water Supply. The intent of the plan is to implement a comprehensive program that will incorporate all three components using seven elements to improve water resources in the basin:
Reservoir Fish Passage Element (Habitat Component);
-- Provide fish passage at the five major Yakima River basin dams – Cle Elum, Bumping Lake, Tieton, Keechelus, and Kachess – as well as Clear Lake Dam.
--Structural and Operational Changes Element (Systems Modification Component);
-- Cle Elum Pool Raise,
-- Kittitas Reclamation District Canal Modifications,
-- Keechelus-to-Kachess Pipeline,
-- Subordinate Power at Roza Dam and Chandler Powerplants, and
-- Wapatox Canal Improvements.
Surface Water Storage Element (Water Supply Component);
-- Wymer Dam and Pump Station,
-- Kachess Reservoir Inactive Storage,
-- Bumping Lake Reservoir Enlargement, and
-- Study of Columbia River Pump Exchange with Yakima Storage.
Groundwater Storage Element (Water Supply Component);
-- Shallow Aquifer Recharge, and
-- Aquifer Storage and Recovery.
Habitat/Watershed Protection and Enhancement Element (Habitat Component);
-- Targeted Watershed Protections and Enhancements, and
-- Mainstem Floodplain and Tributary Enhancement Program.
Enhanced Water Conservation Element (Water Supply Component);
-- Agricultural Conservation, and
-- Municipal and Domestic Conservation Program.
Market Reallocation Element (Water Supply Component).
The goal is to seek authorization and funding from both the U.S. Congress and the Washington State Legislature to begin implementing projects outlined in the integrated plan. The work group adopted the plan in 2011 that led to the preparation of the EIS released today. Individual projects will each receive specific environmental review. The document serves as an umbrella framework for the entire plan.
The plan will be further refined based on the comments received during the programmatic environmental review and forwarded to the U.S. Department of Interior for authorization and policy consideration by Congress and the state Legislature in 2013.
"This environmental impact statement provides a framework for addressing the basin's water needs holistically by balancing those needs," said Derek Sandison, Ecology director of the Office of Columbia River. "Now we have a real opportunity to achieve success where in the past water management has been historically contentious."
A programmatic EIS evaluates the effects of broad proposals or planning-level decisions that may include a wide range of individual projects; implementation over a long timeframe; and/or implementation across a large geographic area. A PEIS does not evaluate site-specific issues such as precise project footprints or specific design details that are not yet ready for decision at the planning level; therefore, any projects selected for implementation will require subsequent project-level, or site-specific environmental reviews.
The PEIS satisfies National Environmental Policy Act and the Washington State Environmental Policy Act requirements. The Final PEIS was to be formally filed today with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/reports/FPEIS/fpeis.pdf
-- Executive Summary for the Final PEIS http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/reports/FPEIS/summary.pdf
-- Ecology's Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan web site http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/YBIP.html
-- Reclamation's Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan web site http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/2011integratedplan/index.html