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Basinwide Yakima water plan aims for long-range solution

MIKE JOHNSTON | Daily Record senior writer –  May 18, 2015

A group of people working on a long-term plan for the Yakima River basin say this past winter — with little snow, more rain and now, drought conditions — likely is a taste of what’s to come. “We’ve never had a winter like this,” Kittitas Reclamation District Board member Urban Eberhart said. “The snowpack and the water we need from it just wasn’t there. We don’t have the capacity, right now, to capture all the rain that fell this winter; it flowed through the system.” The worry, Eberhart added, is this could be the beginning of an early string of low-snow winters long before the water-saving projects are hoped to be on line.

Concerns about climate change and drought are one reason Eberhart and a diverse group of other people have been working on a 30-year, $4 billion to $5 billion Yakima River basin integrated plan. They said the plan is a wide-ranging, water-supply boosting, fish-habitat enhancing and ecosystem improving schedule of projects that are cumulative in their overall impact. No one project does it all, but it works when they’re operating as a package, together, they said.

The projects have the daunting goal of keeping basin water supplies adequate and stable far into the future for all uses — fish and wildlife habitat, cities and rural communities, irrigated agriculture, recreation and more. One target is to maintain, at a minimum, 70 percent of the water supply that irrigation entities are entitled to every year from the Yakima River system. Irrigators say that’s the bare minimum needed to get by in the growing season.

Come together

The plan was formed 2009 through 2012 by a work group of all major water interests in the 6,000-square-mile, three-county basin. It’s the first-ever agreement in nearly 40 years receiving wide support among diverse and sometimes oppositional interests. During a Daily Record editorial board meeting earlier this month, representatives from environmental groups, local governments, state wildlife agencies, irrigation districts, agricultural producers and the Yakama Nation discussed the long-range plan and this year’s drought. “This not about how we can get new supplies of water; there is no new water available in the basin,” said Steven Malloch, representing the environmental advocacy group American Rivers. “This is all about better managing of the finite water we have, getting the best and widest use for everyone.”

Group members pointed to the need for the plan in light of climate change models showing a forecast of shrinking winter snowpacks in the central Cascades and more rain. Water users in the Yakima River basin rely every year on a slowly melting mountain snowpack to supply a third to a half of what they need. The remainder of the annual demand, hopefully, is supplied by a system of five, large, Cascade mountain reservoirs, three of which are in Upper Kittitas County.

 Another factor is the legal reality that the amount of water that water-right holders have a right to draw and use from the Yakima River system exceeds the amount of water the river system produces each year. The huge watershed, basin and river system is over-appropriated, and the group agrees that the water the basin does receive must be better managed, stored, conserved and reused.


Eberhart said the hope is that this winter’s scant snow is only an anomaly, and cold, snow-laden winters will return next year. This year’s winter set records for the lowest amount of snow in Cascades, he said. The group agreed it’s often a challenge to get the wider public’s attention about the long-standing need for basin water projects. “The larger water issues we’re facing in the basin, well, they can be just plain hard for people to understand without the context of the overall picture,” Malloch said. Eberhart tries to explain the basin’s over-appropriated water and changing climate trends whenever he can, he said, and that “this isn’t hype; it’s really going on right now,” and can be seen in dramatic cuts in water allocations to basin irrigators.

Capture the rain

Additional water storage capacity in the basin, Malloch said, can help capture rain runoff from the predicted weather patterns prompted by climate change, water that would have flowed through the river system. Tom Ring, a Yakama Nation hydrogeologist, said federal authorization for some of the plan’s projects have already been granted but need funding. State government in 2013 approved more than $132 million to kick-start early projects, including a purchase of 50,000 acres of private timberland in the Teanaway River drainage basin in Upper County, an important watershed area at the Yakima River’s headwaters that requires protection.

Another plan-related project in 2013-2014 was turning open irrigation ditches into water-saving, pressurized irrigation piping in the Manastash Creek area that also assisted the Kittitas County Conservation District. “Those coming together to put together this plan is unprecedented in the basin’s history,” Ring said. Having more stable water supplies that can be relied on year-to-year and a way to get fish through the basin’s dams, means rejuvenation of migratory and resident fish runs, said Jeff Tayer, representing the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

All together

Scott Revell, manager of the Roza Irrigation District, said the plan doesn’t look at any one project, but each project works in sync with the others to make for a more reliable water supply. Malloch said there is no way to improve water supply management in the basin without the support of everyone in the work group. “The plan isn’t perfect, not everyone likes every part of it, but we’ve laid aside our issues to understand the issues faced by others. We can only make this work by cooperation,” he said.

 Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell said public understanding of the basin integrated plan is creating challenges when understanding isn’t there. “The reality is this is all for the greater good,” Jewell said. “It’s a tremendous political hurdle.”

Not all pleased

Malloch said not everyone will be pleased as the plan’s separate projects come up for environmental review, design, engineering and construction in the coming years. Plans for Bumping Lake and Lake Kachess have met resistance from those with cabins and homes nearby, for example. Malloch said study after study shows more changes in water delivery and district and on-farm use are needed to conserve water, making more available to all. He said the studies also show conservation alone won’t stabilize water supplies, that new water storage reservoirs are needed. Eberhart said he sees the plan as essential to allow life to go on in the Yakima River basin for generations to come. “We came up with a way we could all survive,” Eberhart said.

Recent projects update-

Raise Lake Cle Elum reservoir pool three feet

The final environmental impact statement has been completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Ecology that examines the basin integrated plan project to increase water in the Lake Cle Elum reservoir in Upper Kittitas County by raising its capacity by three feet. Copies of the report may be obtained by calling 509-575-5848, Ext. 232, or at

Lake Kachess projects

A call for a second round of public comments is underway by the bureau and Ecology Department on a pipeline project from Lake Keechelus reservoir in Upper County to the high-capacity Lake Kachess reservoir, with an emergency drought pumping system also at Kachess. The deadline for public comments to be received is June 15, and can be submitted to, by mail to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Attn: Ms. Candace McKinley, environmental program manager,1917 Marsh Road, Yakima, WA, 98901; by telephone to 509-575-5848, Ext. 603.

Yakima River basin integrated plan-

Major elements:

Fish passage: Provide fish passage at every major Yakima River basin dam (preliminary work may begin this year at Lake Cle Elum reservoir). Structural and operational changes: Promote operational efficiency and flexibility at existing in-basin facilities (the Keechelus and Kachess reservoir projects included).

Surface water storage expansion: Develop an additional 450,000 acre-feet of additional water storage for supporting instream and out-of-stream uses in the Yakima River basin (this includes more water in Lake Cle Elum and a new reservoir in the Yakima River Canyon southeast of Ellensburg).

Groundwater storage: Recharge underground soil or rock formations with surface water for storage and recovery for future use.

Habitat/watershed protection and enhancement: Enhance critical habitat for migrating and resident fish and wildlife.

Enhanced water conservation: Aggressively implement water-use efficiency measures and projects involving irrigation entities and other water users to improve water supply available for instream flow support in critical stream reaches.

Market-driven reallocation: Create conditions within which water banks can facilitate the sale or lease of water between willing parties on a temporary or permanent basis.

Three-phase project over 30 years-

Phase 1 (current projects in a 10-year period)

Initial phase projects:

Lake Kachess reservoir drought relief pumping plant – $205 million; fish passage at Lake Cle Elum reservoir – $87 million; three-foot rise in the Lake Cle Elum reservoir capacity – $18 million; and the $159 million Lake Keechelus reservoir to Lake Kachess reservoir pipeline to fill the larger-capacity Lake Kachess with Lake Keechelus water.

Undertake $85 million in projects to help agricultural producers and irrigation districts conserve water by using less, with the goal to make available about one-half of the 170,000 acre-feet of conserved water envisioned by the plan.

$100 million in floodplain and tributary habitat restoration projects and acquisitions, $90 million for additional fish passage projects, $6 million in aquifer storage and recovery projects, and $500,000 for fostering water banking and exchange programs.

Attempts to attain Wild and Scenic River designations for some headwater stream reaches will also be advanced during the initial phase, beginning with portions of the upper Cle Elum River system planned is a cost of $15 million for feasibility studies and prepare an environmental impact statement examining the construction of one the two, new large storage facilities called for in the plan.



 Yakima Basin water supply outlook worsens again

May 5, 2015

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic

With drought conditions worsening, Yakima Basin junior irrigation water rights holders are now looking at a 47 percent allocation of normal supplies, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday.

And if the dry trend of April continues, junior water rights holders could see supplies as low as 38 percent, bureau water engineer Chris Lynch told a packed house of irrigators, fish biologists and other officials Monday morning.

The latest estimate of 47 percent marks the third time the federal agency has revised its forecast in two months. Its first official estimate in March placed junior supplies at 73 percent. In early April it estimated 60 percent.

“It’s a dire scenario we’re facing,” Urban Eberhart, a farmer and Kittitas Reclamation District board member, said in an interview after the meeting. “I was shocked by the speed of the decline and now I don’t have too much confidence that the 47 percent estimate will hold as well.”

Lynch said it’s been challenging to make accurate forecasts this year because the conditions — the warm, wet winter and hot, dry spring — are so unusual.

In previous droughts, during 2005 and 2001, some snow arrived in March and April, he said, but this year the hoped-for storms never arrived. The long-term forecast continues to call for hot and dry weather.

The increasingly grim outlook is the result of drier than expected weather in recent months.

“We’re getting further behind on our precipitation,” Lynch said. “We’re at record-low snow now.”

While senior rights holders are still expected to receive a full supply, the shortfall is expected to hit the Roza and the Kittitas Reclamation districts hardest, since both rely entirely on junior water rights.

But other water users, including the Wapato Irrigation Project, the Sunnyside Valley and Kennewick irrigation districts and the cities of Yakima and Ellensburg, have a mix of junior and senior rights and will also have some of their normal supplies cut.

The worsening forecast makes it difficult for irrigation districts that rely on juniors rights to plan ahead, said Ron Van Gundy, policy director for the Roza Irrigation District. The district serves 72,000 acres of mostly high-value tree fruit, grapes and hops.

“We need to know the worst-case scenario so that we can plan for it,” Van Gundy said. “When it keeps getting worse, that messes up our ability to plan operations. If it gets better, that’s easy to deal with.”

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for Central Washington in March but lawmakers have not yet approved the $9 million request from the Department of Ecology for drought-relief funding that would help cover the costs of water leasing and drought well use.

Snowpack in the region is now standing at less than 10 percent of normal for this time of year and irrigation deliveries began to tap into the reservoirs’ stored water on April 15. That normally begins sometime in June.

The 47 percent supply estimate is still better than the 2005 and 2001 droughts, when juniors rights holders got 42 percent and 37 percent of normal supplies, respectively.

The Kittitas Reclamation District is planning to use the same strategy as during those droughts, which is to provide normal water supplies early in the season so that farmers can get one strong crop of Timothy hay harvested, Eberhart said. That’s the main cash crop the district serves. Then, it will stretch the water it has left as far as possible.

“What we really need for the fruit crops is drought well access so we can save those later season crops,” Eberhart said.

During the 2001 and 2005 droughts, the Roza District opted for a mid-season shutdown in the spring to save water for later in the season. Such a drastic move is only considered when supplies are expected to be less than half of normal, district manager Scott Revell said.

In 2005, when a bad drought was predicted in March, the district decided to shut down for three weeks in April. But this year a shutdown was not originally considered because of the more optimistic forecast.

Now, Revell said the district’s board faces a difficult decision on either shutting down for 20 days in May or ending the season several weeks early — neither of which are ideal for farmers at this point in the growing season.

The board is expected to decide which course of action to take at its Tuesday meeting.

Newhouse leads effort for federal funding of water storage projects

May 3, 2015

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic

It’s too late for new reservoirs to make a difference for this summer’s water shortages, but first-term Congressman Dan Newhouse is pushing a bill aimed at encouraging the federal government to pick up the pace on planning new water storage projects.

“I’ve been part of the agriculture community for a long time in the Yakima Valley and there’s been a lot of effort in my lifetime to look at additional storage options,” Newhouse said.

But until the recent development of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, he said, most of the proposed solutions had stalled in the planning process. The plan has the support of a wide range of interests, including tribal officials, farmers and irrigation companies.

With drought conditions in the Yakima Basin and across the West, Newhouse said he’s optimistic that other lawmakers will support his proposal to streamline the often-lengthy review process that the federal Bureau of Reclamation is required to undergo.

“This year, a lot of people are thinking, ‘Gosh, I wish we’d done some of this in the past,’” he said. “It’s not to sell short the environmental or feasibility review process, but just to put a limit on that so we can either move forward with a project or say no and move on to a different solution.”

The bill, which targets only water supply projects planned by the Bureau of Reclamation, would limit the feasibility study to three years and $3 million. Extensions would be available if they can be justified.

Newhouse said the provisions are similar to those in a water infrastructure bill targeting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Congress passed with broad bipartisan support last year.

Known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, it also authorized $12.3 billion worth of specific projects, including deepening harbors and improving flood control.

Newhouse’s bill focuses solely on making the review process more efficient and accountable, not on authorizing specific projects.

If passed, the bill would not speed up the process for reservoirs that are already in the works. That means it likely will have little impact on the new reservoirs proposed for the Yakima Canyon and Bumping Lake under the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

“Even though this doesn’t directly benefit the current effort, it certainly will help future efforts and potential new projects considered in the future in the Yakima Basin,” Newhouse said.

Co-sponsors include Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif,, Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Tom McClintock, R-Calif. Newhouse said he expects the bill to gain support with Western lawmakers from both parties.

“Water is a precious resource,” he said. “This focuses on potential solutions that we are going to need very soon.”




Drought causing concern for Yakima Valley farmers

YAKIMA VALLEY, Wash. — This year’s drought is starting to cause concern for Yakima Valley farmers. And, is expected to be the worst one yet. KIMA found out what changes a Yakima Valley irrigation district had to make this week and how it may affect our economy.

“All the crops that are permanent are going to be hit hard,” said Ric Valicoff, a farmer and the president of the Roza’s board of directors.

Those crops could include apples, grapes and peaches. With the lack of snow and runoff this year, farmer Ric Valicoff is expecting the worst drought yet.

It forced the Roza Irrigation District to take water out of storage about two months earlier than average. The water supply has been shrinking about 2 percent a week. On Monday, farmers using the Roza canal had their water supply dropped down to less than two gallons per minute per acre.

Next week, a new water forecast will determine if the almost 100-mile long canal needs to shut down for up to four weeks this summer. Without the usual amount of water available, the 1,700 growers who rely on Roza’s water may have to cut back crops or take some out all together.

“That’s a tough decision, but that’s one they may have to make,” Valicoff said.

“It’s not good for the farm economy and if it turns into a two, or three, or four, or longer year drought, that could be devastating,” said Scott Revell, the Roza Irrigation District manager.

Some growers say what makes all the difference is having private wells or ponds.

Roza leaders say they will pay to lease water for $500 an acre from other districts and private property owners upstream. That price is $200 more an acre than they’ve offered in past droughts.

“We have to struggle and battle through what’s left at the end of the bucket,” Valicoff said.

For contracted crops, like mint, store prices and availability may take a hit. Apples are coming off a record season so demand may be lower. But growers say they are still keeping their hopes high in the face of drought.


Drought Map

Roza irrigators seek Sunnyside water to lessen hit of Yakima Basin drought

April 28, 2015

Kristi Pihl
Tri-City Herald

The Roza Irrigation District is trying to lease water to help its customers better survive the Yakima Basin drought.

Roza’s board unanimously approved Monday leasing water for $500 per acre from willing property owners within the neighboring Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District. The move could cost at least $1.2 million.

Some Yakima Basin water users such as the Roza and Kennewick irrigation districts may only get 54 percent of their water supply, according to a mid-April forecast released by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Yakima Basin and some other areas last month, because of limited mountain snowpacks. That declaration has been extended to cover nearly half of the state.

Roza’s water rights can be limited in a drought year. Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District does have some water rights that can be limited by the government, but about two-thirds of its water rights are senior and can’t be reduced.

Many Roza farmers have perennial crops such as grapes, hops and tree fruit, while more Sunnyside Valley farmers have row crops, said Scott Revell, Roza’s manager. Row crop farmers may be more willing to lease their water than those with perennial crops.

The Sunnyside Valley board would need to approve the lease of any water from its customers to Roza. That has not happened yet.

Officials hope to find at least 5,000 acre-feet of water that Roza can lease for its customers, Revell said. Roza did lease water during the 2001 and 2005 droughts.

Roza may need to lease water from about 2,380 acres to reach the 5,000 acre-feet goal, Revell said. That assumes Sunnyside Valley farmers are getting about 2.1 acre feet per acre of their 3 acre feet per acre allotment. That would lead to a cost of $1.2 million.

Irrigation district officials hope some of the cost to lease water will be covered by the state. During previous droughts, the state covered half the cost and the district covered the other half, Revell said.

The state Department of Ecology has asked the state Legislature for $9 million in drought response money. Of that, $4 million would be for the Yakima Basin, including payments for temporary water transfers.

Roza does have $3.5 million in a drought savings fund. But there is some concern about what spending some of that money will mean for next year.

This year is not as bad as it could have been because the reservoirs were completely full, which is not usual. The Bureau of Reclamation is using the stored reservoir water to meet the needs of farmers, fish, residents and other Yakima Basin water users this year. If that stored water is not replenished and the state sees another year of low snowpack, the resulting drought could be much worse.

The five reservoirs serving the Yakima Basin can’t store enough water to meet all needs. The basin depends on snow to recharge them.

Roza officials did discuss the idea of a $28 an acre assessment to replenish the drought fund. That could bring in about $2 million. It’s not something that appeals to anyone, least of all farmers, Revell said. But it could become necessary.

“We’ve only got the water we’ve got to work with,” Revell said. “The decisions are usually a series of trade-offs.”

Farmers themselves already are making trade-offs. Some are deciding to sacrifice part of their orchard or hops yard so they can use what water they can get on the rest of their crop, he said.

Roza officials also encourage farmers to work together. Some may be able to lease water from others within the district. The district’s office has a running list of available water and is working to get that list online later this week to better facilitate leases.

The board did not make a decision about whether there would be a spring shutdown of the irrigation system to save water for the peak demand months of June through August. A 20-day shutdown could save 14,000 acre-feet of water for later in the year.

Some dairy, mint and alfalfa growers have told irrigation district officials that they do not want a mid-season shutdown this spring, Revell said. But some apple and juice and wine grape farmers have requested a shutdown occur in spring if it is going to happen at all.

Roza officials are waiting to see how much water Sunnyside Valley farmers are willing to put up for lease and for the next water supply estimate from the Bureau of Reclamation, Revell said. That estimate is expected May 4, and the board has a 9 a.m. meeting May 5.

Water supply predictions have been declining each month. So far, the outlook continues to look glum. However, it’s possible the Cascade Mountains could see some rain and snow this week.

So far, irrigation districts are expecting to receive more water than they did during the 2001 and 2005 droughts. Roza was cut down to 37 percent of its normal supply in 2005.

However, the Bureau of Reclamation had to start using stored reservoir water to supplement natural flows about six weeks earlier this year than compared to the previous droughts.

That means an earlier start to water cutbacks. And it makes managing the drought more complicated, because there is a longer period that the limited water has to be spread to cover, Revell said.

Many variables are in play that will affect how much water actually is available, including the weather during the next few months.

Currently, Roza’s canals are as low as they can go and still operate. The system is running at about 395 cubic feet per second, creating some problems with intake pumps, Revell said.

So instead of getting 7.5 gallons per minute per acre, farmers and others are able to get about 1.8 gallons per minute per acre.

Irrigation district employees are trying to minimize the amount of water spilled at the end of the open canal system. The water master has set the canal to run at a specific delivery amount and then is adjusting deliveries to use up all the water, Revell said.

Roza officials plan to continue updating the irrigation district’s website to give farmers as much up to date information as is available. About 35 growers attended Roza’s Monday special board meeting.

Yakima Valley farmers seek state drought relief for emergency wells

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic

Posted on April 25, 2015

Eyeing this summer’s predicted water shortage, Yakima Basin farmers with emergency wells are eager to start pumping, but they’re waiting for lawmakers to find funding.

On Friday, Sunnyside-area dairy owner Brian Bosma told the Legislature’s drought committee that because of rationing of irrigation district water supplies, he’ll need his backup well to have enough water for his cows and to manage their manure by using it to grow crops.

“I can’t even run one pivot,” Bosma told the lawmakers.

But Bosma’s emergency well and about a hundred others in the region can’t be turned on until the state Department of Ecology has the money to lease water rights to offset the wells’ effects on the region’s total water supply, said Tom Loranger, the agency’s water resources program manager.

It’s necessary because the region’s entire water supply is already claimed.

Ecology has requested $9.6 million from lawmakers for drought-relief efforts, including balancing the use of these wells. However, that funding has not yet been approved.

Loranger told the committee that during the last drought in 2005, Ecology spent $1.3 million on water rights to offset the use of drought wells that served about 11,000 acres in Yakima and Kittitas counties.

This year, it’s likely to cost closer to $2.2 million because the value of the water rights appears to have gone up substantially, Loranger said. In 10 years, the cost of leasing one acre-foot of water — enough water to cover an acre with one foot of water — has nearly doubled, from $137 to $275, he said.

The rising price reflects more demand and less supply, Loranger said. Committee chairman Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, agreed.

“There’s more high-value crops going in, so there is not as much water available to share. That’s why it’s going up in costs,” Honeyford said.

It’s also going to be more expensive for the Roza Irrigation District, which has all junior rights, to lease some senior water rights from the Sunnyside Irrigation District. In 2005, Roza leased almost 28,000 acre-feet at a cost of $3.8 million.

This year, fewer than 10,000 acre-feet will likely be available to lease, district manager Scott Revell said in an interview after the hearing. With 54 percent of normal supply estimated, the district is rationing, but no decision has been made on a midseason shutdown, he added.

In the past, the state has split the cost of water transfer with the irrigation district 50-50, but covered the entire cost of the emergency wells, Loranger told the committee.

That surprised Honeyford, who said it would be more fair to have all water users share the costs. It would also help the state stretch its funds.

No decision was made on cost-sharing during the Friday hearing. Loranger said if costs were split 50-50, the estimate for a farmer with an emergency well serving 80 acres would be about $7,700. That would be just for the water rights, not including the cost to power the pumps.

Funding for drought relief will be just one of many budget needs facing lawmakers as they try to broker a deal in a special session that starts next week. The Senate included $18 million for drought relief in its capital budget proposal, but the House did not.

Some Yakima Valley farmers may receive less water than expected

Kristi Pihl
Tri-City Herald

April 3, 2015

The looming Yakima Basin drought is expected to get worse after little snow fell in March.

State and federal officials now believe some Yakima Basin water users will receive even less than the 73 percent of their normal water that was predicted previously.

Jeff Marti, the state Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator, told a joint House and Senate drought committee Wednesday that it’s likely the federal Bureau of Reclamation will lower the amount of water that users such as the Kennewick and Roza irrigation districts will receive. The joint committee met for the first time Wednesday.

The Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue its next water supply estimate Monday.

Some snow fell on Snoqualmie Pass on Tuesday night, but it was spotty in only the high elevations, and was too little to improve the situation, said Scott Pattee, U.S. Department of Agriculture water supply specialist.

Statewide, snowpack is at 22 percent of average, he said. The upper Yakima Basin is at 5 percent of average snowpack, while the lower Yakima Basin is at 28 percent.

What snow there is continues to melt earlier than normal, Pattee said.

Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Yakima Basin, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and the Olympic Peninsula.

Officials are calling it a snowpack drought. The reservoirs for the Yakima Basin are full, but the basin depends on snow to recharge those reservoirs, and that snowpack isn’t there.

The drought situation this year is different than what the state experienced in recent years, Marti said. That’s because while there was normal precipitation statewide, the unusually warm temperatures meant that water fell as rain instead of snow and already has flowed to the ocean.

At the moment, the anticipated water supply in the Yakima Basin is not dire enough to trigger a large state response, Marti said. But that could change if the anticipated water supply dwindles.

Ecology has asked the state Legislature for $9 million in drought response money for the state.

Of that, $4 million would be for the Yakima Basin for issues such as helping to pay for temporary water transfers from those with senior water rights to junior water right users.

Another $1 million would allow the state to lease Yakima Basin water rights to preserve river flows.

Yakima Basin major water users can handle the pain if the water supply remains above 70 percent, Marti said.

Ecology will not approve emergency wells in the Yakima Basin at this time, Marti said. That could change if the situation deteriorates.

But even if it gets worse, the state would have to find water to offset well water use before those wells could be approved and begin pumping water, Marti said. Yakima Basin surface and ground water have to be managed together.

“It is going to be more challenging to find the water to mitigate that use,” he said.

Irrigation districts like the Columbia Irrigation District, with senior water rights issued before 1905, will get their full water amount because those rights can’t be limited by the state or federal government.

Irrigation districts with proratable water rights can see their water reduced.

Kennewick Irrigation District’s water rights are senior but proratable, meaning its water will be reduced based on availability.

KID employees on Wednesday began filling the canal system with Yakima River water. It will take a few weeks for all customers to have access to the water, but many should have water this week.

The irrigation district is delaying fully filling the Division 4 canal until April 15 to give employees time to finish ongoing construction projects, said Jason McShane, the irrigation district’s engineering and operations manager.

But officials plan to phase in filling that canal so some farmers and residential neighborhoods will have access to water sooner.

Kennewick Irrigation District customers who want to know when their water likely will be on can go to KID’s website at and use the interactive map.

The cities of Kennewick and Richland do not have the capacity for residents who use KID water on their lawns and gardens to switch to city water. Residents and businesses who use city water can continue to do so.

The cities use Columbia River water, and state and federal officials expect plenty this year because the river is fed by Canadian snowpack.

KID is among the last to be able to start pulling water from the Yakima River based on water rights. Columbia, Roza, Benton and Sunnyside Valley irrigation districts started filling canal systems in March.

Roza’s water rights can be limited. Benton and Sunnyside Valley have some water the government can’t limit, but they also have some water that can be cut back in a drought year.

Ecology officials have met with Yakima Basin irrigation districts, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Yakama Nation to begin determining the best strategy for the expected drought.

The department is reaching out to Yakima River irrigators to try to find some with senior water rights who are willing to let their land go fallow this year and lease their water to the state to maintain flows in the tributaries, Marti said.

Officials want to lease water to keep streams from going dry in the upper Yakima Basin, specifically above where the Yakima, Naches, and Tieton rivers meet at the city of Yakima. Farmers who are willing to not harvest an annual crop this year can be paid by the state to leave water in the river.

“With snowpack levels dangerously low, the upper tributary streams are at greatest risk of going dry,” said Sage Park, water resources manager in Ecology’s Central Regional Office in Yakima. “These creeks feed the main-stem river that delivers water downstream to other senior water users.”

Farmers interested in finding out more can go to a workshop at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Department of Ecology’s Central Regional Office, 15 W. Yakima Ave. in Yakima.

State to lease water to bolster summer stream flow

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic

April 2, 2015

YAKIMA, Wash. — Eyeing forecasts of a water shortage this summer, state officials are looking into leasing water from irrigators to keep streams flowing in the Upper Yakima Basin.

The warm winter resulted in a nearly record-low snowpack across the region, which means streams in the upper watershed that are normally fed by snow melt are at high risk of drying up this summer, the state Department of Ecology said in a news release Wednesday.

In March, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in Central Washington. The region’s snowpack is about a quarter of normal for this time of year, and the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that junior rights holders in the Yakima Basin will receive about 73 percent of their normal water supply.

Ecology is looking for senior water rights holders who have rights to water in tributaries north of Yakima and would accept payment for not diverting water for their crops this summer.

The agency has $500,000 to spend to lease water to supplement stream flow, said Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder.

By leasing water for tributaries, the state protects both fisheries and river flows farther downstream where other irrigation withdrawals are made, Redfield-Wilder said. Exactly how much water could be leased is still unknown, she added.

During the 2005 drought, Ecology leased 4,012 acre-feet from upper Yakima River irrigators.

Ecology uses a reverse-auction process to lease water rights. Irrigators state the price they are willing to accept to lease water, and Ecology selects which bids to take.

This leasing program is funded through Ecology’s regular water resource program, Redfield-Wilder said, but more leasing and transfer programs could start this summer once the Legislature approves the $9 million in emergency drought relief funding the agency requested. Private parties can also pursue water rights transfers, subject to state approval, at any time.

Below is a link to the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance’s Response to the Keechelus-to-Kachess Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

YBSA Response to K-K DEIS Projects FINAL

 K to K Pipeline 2 Irrigated Crops Salmon Spawning


Click Here for the Integrated Plan Review for YBSA by Normandeau

Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant and Keechelus Reservoir-to-Kachess Reservoir Conveyance

Draft Environmental Impact Statement

January 2015

Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Ecology

Click Here

Below is the Draft Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary pdf

 Executive Summary PEIS


Kachess Lake Image

Lake Kachess

Keechelus Lake ImageLake Keechelus

steelhead Steelhead on Fish Laddersalmon

Salmon Jumping

C33-100-016x  Pears.  Yakima Project, WA.            Pears          Hay        Hay               HopsHops

Above Pictures from Bureau of Reclamation





December 15 2014

Principal Investigators:

Jonathan Yoder, Project Lead and contact author

Director, State of Washington Water Research Center

Professor, School of Economic Sciences

Washington State University

Jennifer Adam, Washington State University

Michael Brady, Washington State University

Joseph Cook, University of Washington

Stephen Katz, Washington State University

Contributing authors and research support

Daniel Brent, Monash University

Shane Johnston, University of Washington

Keyvan Malek, Washington State University

John McMillan, McMillan Biological Consulting and Media

Qingqing Yang, Washington State University

B-C Analysis of YBIP Projects P a g e | 2 December 2014

Executive Summary

The Yakima River Basin lies in semi-arid south central Washington and supports a growing population as well as $3 billion agricultural industry that is heavily dependent on irrigation for production. The river system historically supported large runs of salmon and steelhead, but a variety of stressors both internal and external to the basin have reduced those populations substantially since the early 20th century. A reservoir system supplies water through the operation of five reservoirs with a combined storage totaling just over a million acre-feet (af). Stream flow is primarily derived from the spring snowmelt runoff. Precipitation in this area is winter-dominant, and is stored in the snowpack as a natural but seasonally declining reservoir for spring and summer water use. Water rights in the basin are over-appropriated such that a number of droughts in the last few decades have led to curtailment of water to junior water rights holders. Historical drought impacts, concerns over the effects of climate change on snowpack, the potential for increasing anadromous fish abundance in the basin, and future municipal water demands have been the impetus for the development of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan

(“IP”). The IP includes the following elements:

Reservoir Fish Passage

Fish Habitat Enhancement

Modifying Existing Structures and


Surface Storage

Market-Based Reallocation

Groundwater Storage

Enhanced Water Conservation

Fish passage projects, habitat enhancements, and instream flow augmentation are designed to support increases in salmon, steelhead, and other fish populations in the basin. Proposed infrastructure and water market development are intended to mitigate instream and out-of-stream drought impacts through increased storage and improved water trading, respectively. In particular, the surface water and groundwater storage projects would increase cumulative water storage by 500,000 af for a total of 1.5 million af in the basin. Many analyses of the IP and its components have been published to date. One of them, the “Four Accounts analysis” (2012), compares the net benefits of the IP as a whole against a no-IP alternative, and reports benefits ranging from $6.2 billion to $8.6 billion, and costs ranging from $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion. The reported Benefit/Cost (B/C) ratios are 1.4 and above, suggesting that the benefits of the IP as a whole outweigh its costs in aggregate net present value. These B/C results are provided for the full proposed implementation of the IP, but with limited exceptions, existing studies do not provide estimates of the net benefits of the individual components of the IP.

Section 5057 of the State of Washington Capital Budget for 2013 charges the State of Washington Water Research Center “to prepare separate benefit-cost [B-C] analyses for each of the projects proposed in the 2012 Yakima River basin water resource management plan [IP]”. It further stipulates that “To the greatest extent possible, the center must use information from existing studies, supplemented by primary research, to measure and evaluate each project’s benefits and costs.” This report is in response to and framed by this charge.

Existing hydrologic and water management models of the Yakima River basin are used to examine the impact of proposed IP water storage projects, conservation, and proposed instream flows on drought impacts under a limited set of climate scenarios. A crop production model is used to assess the potential economic impact of IP projects and water market development on the economic risk of water curtailment. Municipalities in the basin are slated to receive water rights for future population growth under the IP, and these benefits to municipalities are estimated. The net benefits of fish passage for the five reservoirs in the basin, proposed IP instream flows, and habitat restoration in the basin for salmon and trout are assessed. Because each of the proposed IP projects would operate within the Yakima Basin hydrologic system, there are extensive interdependencies among projects, so that the benefits of one project are often dependent on the implementation status of other projects. We show that the value of any given water storage projects is highest when no other water storage project is implemented, and that water market development also affects the value of water storage projects. The economic tradeoffs between instream flows for fish and out-ofstream water uses are also dependent on these factors. Selected results include the following:

A snapshot of IP benefit estimates for moderate climate, water market, and baseline fish scenarios.

o Agricultural irrigation benefits: $117 million.

o Municipal and domestic benefits: $32 million.

o Fish benefits: $1 to $2 billion.

When implemented together as part of the IP, the major water storage projects as a group do not pass a B-C test. Net present value for out-of-stream benefits (NB) from the IP range from -$2.2 to -$2.7 billion (B/C ratios from 0.02 to 0.20) depending on market and climate assumptions. Estimated benefits of proposed instream flow increases cannot make up for this shortfall.

No individual water storage project provides positive net benefits for out-of-stream uses when implemented as part of the full IP, even under the most adverse climate and restrictive market conditions.

Net benefits for out-of-stream use of individual water storage projects implemented with no other projects implemented are negative, with some exceptions under the most adverse climate and water market conditions. Based on moderate climate and market outcomes, storage infrastructure projects implemented alone and without proposed IP instream flow augmentation result in the following estimated out-of-stream net present value and B/C ratios, none of which passes a B-C test:

o Bumping Lake Expansion: NB=-$371 million; B/C ratio of 0.18.

o Cle Elum Pool raise: NB= -$6 million; B/C ratio of 0.62. Under the most adverse climate scenario and moderate market conditions, NB=$5 million with a B/C ratio is 1.35. It is also the most likely of the storage projects to satisfy a B-C test under moderate climate based on the sum of out-of stream and instream use value.

o Keechelus to Kachess Conveyance: NB= -$110 million; B/C ratio of 0.20.

o Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant: NB= -$107 million; B/C ratio of 0.46. Under the most adverse climate considered, Keechelus to Kachess Conveyance and Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant together provide net benefits of $6 million and a B/C ratio of 1.02.

o Passive Aquifer Storage and Recovery: NB=-$82 million; B/C ratio of 0.35.

o Wymer Dam and Reservoir: NB= -$1,217 million; B/C ratio of 0.09.

o Due to diminishing economic returns to water in the basin, increasing the number of IP storage projects reduces the value of each water storage project implemented.

Instream flow benefits are insufficient to support the full suite of IP water storage projects given the net benefit shortfall in out-of-stream benefits, but proposed instream flows may be supportable through market purchases.

o Purchases of senior water rights to implement proposed IP instream flows would be less expensive than providing instream flows via IP storage infrastructure, with estimated costs ranging from $85 million to $500 million depending on water market and climate conditions.

o Because of its low cost, Cle Elum pool raise is most likely to satisfy a B-C test under moderate climate based on the sum of estimated out-of-stream and instream benefits.

Reservoir fish passage projects are likely to provide positive net benefits through their pivotal role in supporting wild sockeye reintroduction into the basin. Fish passage is estimated to provide benefits ranging from about $0.95 to $1.7 billion and cost a total of $0.35 billion for all fish passage projects, which provide B/C ratios ranging from 2.7 to 4.9 for the individual fish Passage projects.

Fish habitat restoration is unlikely to satisfy a B-C test. Results for the net benefits of instream flow purchases and restoration investment together range from about $48 million to $294 million, which fall below their estimated combined costs of $450 million. IP restoration costs are estimated at $338 million, so our results suggest that restoration does not satisfy a B-C test. However, insufficient evidence exists to estimate the contribution of habitat restoration to fish passage productivity, which may affect the value of restoration.

Water markets show potential for reducing the impacts of basin-wide curtailment. We estimate that potential net gains from trade net of estimated transaction costs range between $216 million and $1.4 billion depending on climate, the extent of market development, and the extent of IP development. We show that markets act as a substitute for IP water storage infrastructure in that more active markets reduce the value of IP water storage infrastructure.

This report is not intended as a review of prior benefit-cost assessments of the IP, but it does utilize and extend existing IP analyses, and sheds some light on the sources and accuracy of previous B-C estimates. The Four Accounts analysis estimates agricultural benefits of 0.8 billion, municipal benefits of 0.4 billion, fish benefits ranging from $5 to $7.4 billion, and costs ranging from $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion, which together provide positive net benefits and B/C ratios of 1.4 and higher. Our estimated benefits are lower for each category for a host of reasons. Notably, the assumed climate regime has substantial consequences for agricultural benefits, and the baseline salmonid abundance in the Columbia River Basin has important consequences for fish benefits.

Despite differences in results, there are important similarities in our findings. Fish passage projects alone comprise a small percentage of median IP costs but provide about 75% to 80% of the estimated benefits of the IP. In contrast, IP investments for instream and out-of-stream uses account for about 66% of median costs but provide a small fraction of benefits, although this breakdown is not explicit in the Four Accounts analysis. This distribution of costs and benefits drives the strong results for fish passage.

In accordance to the legislative charge, this report focuses sharply on Benefit-Cost analysis to assess the economic efficacy of individual projects. It does not include an economic impact analysis to assess the indirect economic impact of IP investments on the local economy or the statewide impacts of the potential use of state funds to support the IP. Nor does this report cover costs and benefits from ongoing, non-IP programs within the basin whose outcomes may impact IP benefit metrics, such as fish translocation or hatchery operations. Due to data limitations, the majority of the results are based on simulation methods rather than statistical analysis, though statistical analysis is provided when feasible and useful. The consequence is that the majority of our results do not lend themselves to statistical confidence assessment, although robustness analyses are performed. Many necessary tradeoffs were made with respect to modeling approaches due to the dimensionality and scope of this research mandate. As is always true of modelling exercises, refinements are certainly possible and may provide more precision and accuracy for various aspects of this analysis.

Click Here for full WSU Washington State Water Research Center Benefit/Cost Analysis of the Draft Report on the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan.

The following are the complete comments YBSA sent to the WSU Water Resource Center on the benefit/cost analysis of the Draft Report on the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan.

Click Here for the complete YBSA Comments

WSU study challenges economics of Yakima Basin water plan

Posted on December 4, 2014

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — The most expensive projects in the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan for water management don’t pass a cost-benefit analysis, according to a new study by Washington State University economists.

But supporters of the 30-year, $4 billion plan to improve drought security and salmon recovery in the Yakima River Basin call the findings misleading because each part of the plan is designed to work with the others for a net benefit, not to stand alone for economic scrutiny.

They call it a difficult case to grasp, but one in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

“It’s a false premise that what we have before us is a group of disparate projects,” said Derek Sandison, the Department of Ecology’s lead on the Integrated Plan. “The elements move together as a package or they don’t move at all; it’s like a three-legged stool, you can’t remove one of the legs and still expect it to stand.”

The plan, approved by the Legislature in 2013, is a groundbreaking deal led by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ecology Department that gained the support of groups whose competing interests had kept them at odds for decades — farmers, environmentalists and the Yakama Nation.

The Legislature also separately requested a cost-benefit analysis on each major component of the plan: new dams, expanded reservoirs, new fish ladders, habitat restoration, water conservation and water markets.

The recently released report is a first draft of that analysis and a final draft is due to lawmakers later this month, said Jonathan Yoder, a WSU economist and lead author of the report.

Yoder and his team found that none of the water storage projects called for in the plan provide economic benefits that outweigh their costs, even under scenarios in which droughts become more common in the future. However, researchers found that investment in fish ladders for the basin’s five reservoirs will really pay off.

On that point, the WSU study largely agrees with an earlier 2012 economic analysis of the plan by the Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau found that economic benefits for the plan as a whole ranged from $6.2 billion to $8.6 billion, but primarily from the value of salmon recovery.

“It’s no surprise, this study comes up with what we already came up with,” said Urban Eberhart, a Kittitas County grower and member of the Integrated Plan’s executive committee.

Last year, Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, who sponsored the plan, told the Herald-Republic that this study was added to the capital budget by opponents of the plan who hoped to discredit it. Eberhart agreed.

“This is politics,” Eberhart said. “You can’t break it up into individual pieces and look at each part in isolation, it doesn’t work that way. They do work as an integrated plan.”

But Yoder said his study offers a new way of looking at the various parts of the plan and how each aspect affects the others.

Sometimes, the benefits of one project are enhanced by others, such as how fish passage and habitat restoration both encourage salmon recovery. And fish ladders require sufficient water supplies to function. But in the case of water storage projects designed to provide more supply during times of drought, each project actually reduces the value of the others in Yoder’s analysis.

“There are diminishing marginal returns to additional water storage,” Yoder said. “The value of just one project is larger than the value of the same project if all the other water storage projects are also implemented.”

It all comes back to the basics of supply and demand: During a water shortage, each gallon of water becomes more valuable. But if there’s more water, that additional water has less value.

The plan also calls for developing water markets that would allow farmers to buy and sell water during droughts so that the available water is used in the most valuable way, such as keeping an apple orchard alive, rather than raising a crop of hay. But if those markets are working well, Yoder said, it reduces the economic pain of droughts, which then reduces the value of additional water storage.

But that’s exactly why this type of economical analysis is problematic, Sandison said.

It’s not about maximizing the value of water, he said, but ensuring that the region has enough supply to weather droughts, for both farmers and fish. Estimates show that the basin needs 450,000 more acre-feet of water storage and that’s what the plan aims to do, he added.

“This is clearly a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but we’re always going to have the challenge to explain that to people,” Sandison said.

While seemingly counterintuitive, adding that expanded water supply for drought years only provides a small economic benefit relative to the cost of the projects, under the analysis used by the report.

Sandison said that’s because droughts don’t happen every year, and although they are expected to happen more often with climate changes, no one really knows exactly how common they will become.

Also, the analysis only looked at the direct economic gains from reducing the impact of drought, not how the agricultural economy then affects the rest of the region’s finances.

“We’re trying to keep the agricultural economy intact, not grow it, so it’s hard to come up with accurate valuation,” Sandison said. “What did the 2005 drought really cost us? No one can answer that.”

Michael Garrity, Washington conservation director for the conservation group American Rivers, said that the economic analysis also lacks a way to measure the benefits from restored habitat, healthier ecosystems and the recovery of threatened species, such as steelhead and bull trout.

Putting an economic value on salmon recovery is difficult as well, since fish swimming in rivers lack a conventional price tag.

The WSU team used the same method to calculate the value of the plan’s fish benefits as the Bureau of Reclamation did: predicted population gains from implementing the plan combined with a survey about how much people would be willing to pay for varying levels of salmon recovery.

Under that formula, the value of each salmon can end up at thousands of dollars. But, no one is actually purchasing the salmon. Instead, everyone who values salmon recovery benefits, allowing the value of each fish to build up, Yoder said.

It may sound fishy, but Yoder said it’s the best method they had to value salmon recovery, in addition to the smaller value of new fisheries.

But the fact that most of the economic benefits for the whole plan come from a subjective survey about the value of salmon concerns Miles McPhee, a climate scientist from Naches.

McPhee said that the more he learned about the survey, given in the late 1990s to people around the Columbia Basin, the more doubts he had about the Integrated Plan’s actual benefits.

“It just seems like a phony justification for the dams,” McPhee said. “Why spend all that money if the actual benefits are really quite small?”

In fact, according to Yoder’s analysis, the largest of the economic benefit comes from just one salmon species: sockeye. Sockeye need lake habitat, and so the population is expected to boom if fish ladders are added to all five of the region’s reservoirs, starting with the plans underway at Lake Cle Elum.

Yoder’s analysis shows the most valuable project is fish ladders, but supporters of the plan say the success of fish ladders depends on having adequate water supply in drought years.

Yoder said that his analysis attempted to capture those types of connections, and he thinks it was successful.

“It has been said that you cannot disaggregate the Integrated Plan in a meaningful way, economically or politically, but I think that’s not entirely true and our results show that,” Yoder said.

Sandison disagreed, saying that the integrated approach was necessary, both in terms of water management and political support.

“The social contract between the stakeholders in the Yakima Basin is real, it’s not lip service. All the elements of the plan have to move together or this doesn’t move,” Sandison said. “We’re always going to be fighting the notion that this can be disaggregated, when it just can’t.”

Below are important documents concerning the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

The overview document below was prepared to identify the important information in the Normandeau Associates Technical Review of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Click Here for the overview.

 Yakima River Picture Oct. 23 11.19Yakima River

For the complete Normandeau Report Click Here.


For the Infograph, “Enough Water in the Yakima Basin? No!” Click Here. The graph (with Citations) describes the possible shortfall that will occur in the storage components in the Integrated Plan.







from National Climate Assessment Report


With craggy shorelines, volcanic mountains, and high sage deserts, the Northwest’s complex and varied topography contributes to the region’s rich climatic, geographic, social, and ecologic diversity. Abundant natural resources – timber, fisheries, productive soils, and plentiful water – remain important to the region’s economy.

Snow accumulates in mountains, melting in spring to power both the region’s rivers and economy, creating enough hydropower (40% of national total) (NWPCC 2010) to export 2 to 6 million megawatt hours/month (EIA 2011). Snowmelt waters crops in the dry interior, helping the region produce tree fruit (#1 in the world) and almost $17 billion worth of agricultural commodities including 55%, 15%, and 11% of U.S. potato, wheat, and milk production respectively (USDA 2012a, 2012b).

Seasonal water patterns shape the region’s flora and fauna, including iconic salmon and steelhead, and forested ecosystems, which cover 47% of the landscape (Smith et al. 2009).

Water-related Challenges

Changes in the timing of streamflow related to changing snowmelt have been observed andwill continue, reducing the supply of water for many competing demands and causing far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences.

Description of observed and projected changes

Observed regional warming has been linked to hydrologic changes in basins with significant snowmelt contributions to streamflow. Since around 1950, area-averaged spring snowpack decreased 0% to 30% (depending on method and period of analysis) (Mote 2006; Pierce et al. 8 2008), spring snowmelt occurred 0 to 30 days earlier (Stewart et al. 2005), late winter/early spring streamflow increased (Hidalgo et al. 2009) and summer flow decreased 0% to 15% as a fraction of annual total flow (Luce and Holden 2009; Stewart et al. 2005), and winter flow increased, (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation 2011a) with exceptions in smaller areas and shorter time periods (Mote et al. 2008a).


Diagram of a landscape that shows changes in the water cycle for both hotter/drier conditions (in the interior west) and hotter/wetter conditions (in the Northeast and the coasts). Heat trapped by the atmosphere causes more evaporation and more precipitation. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which is also a heat trapping gas. The diagram highlights several conditions, including: decrease in rainfall, decreased extent of snowpack and glaciers, earlier peak streamflow, and a reduction of runoff. It also shows a cycle of decreases in snowfall due to warming lead to proportional increases in rainfall. The combination of decreased late-summer water flow with increased water temperature and increased water usage would lead to increased severe droughts. Additional changes include: decrease in light rains, more severe droughts between rains, decrease in lake ice, increase potential evaporation and water temperature. Also, an increase in rainfall from heavy precipitation events leads to increased flooding and sediments, and ultimately an increase in runoff. Available water would be further reduced by increased water used by plants and increased evaporation. Overall - increased temperatures will cause many cascading changes to the water cycle.

Yakima wants to bank Naches River water in aquifer

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic, April 13, 2014

Yakima’s four municipal wells normally pull water from a deep aquifer, but with a few adjustments, two of the wells can be reversed to send water back into the ground. These dual-action wells are about to become very handy. If temporary permits are approved, as expected, Yakima plans a test project in May to determine if the aquifer can be used to store water from the Naches River. “We want to take water out of the river when it’s available and put it in (the aquifer) when our customers don’t need it,” said David Brown, the city’s water and irrigation manager. “If we store it, then we can use it during drought years.”

Yakima relies primarily on the Naches River for its domestic water. But some of that supply falls under junior water rights, which can be cut during a drought. The city also has rights to the aquifer, which accounts for about 20 percent of the city’s supply during a normal year, Brown said. But during the 2005 drought, the city relied on that groundwater for about half its supply, he said. Brown envisions a system where the city takes advantage of its current water rights, existing wells and distribution system, and the natural groundwater reservoir to improve its ability to meet demands during times of drought. But the technology is relatively new in Washington and the path to getting the necessary permits is complicated. However, because this project is part of the Yakima Basin’s Integrated Plan for water management, the state funding of $150,000 is supporting it.

Taking stored water from the aquifer during a drought, rather than from the river, benefits all the basin’s water users, from farmers to fish, Brown said. Advocates of the technology, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery, or ASR, point out that using aquifers as reservoirs costs less and has fewer environmental consequences than building surface storage. Dan Haller, an environmental engineer who works on ASR projects, said that while the technology is still new here, several Eastern Washington communities, including Walla Walla, Kennewick and White Salmon, are developing such projects. None, however, has received final permits.

Yakima has been researching ASR since 1998, when a consultant noted that the geology below the city would be well suited to storing water. The aquifer beneath Yakima is basically shaped like a bowl, explained Chris Pitre, a hydrogeologist for Golder Associates who has worked with the city for years. But the bowl leaks a little bit. Water in the aquifer slowly moves through a layer of sandstone to eventually feed into the Yakima River. “What we have to figure out is if we store some water in the ground, how long can we retain it?” Brown said. The pilot project planned for May will help answer that question: the city will pump water into the aquifer for five days and then use monitoring wells to track it as it moves for several months.

This will be the city’s second such test. The first was done in 2000 at a different well, Pitre said. Running a model with data from that experiment, they found that about 40 percent of the water would probably “leak” out over 10 years. Since the city’s goal is to use this technology as drought insurance, Brown said they don’t expect to get all their water back. Instead, he said, having additional supply available when they really need it will be worth some slow loss over time.

Droughts are predicted to become more frequent in the region, Brown said, and he believes this storage, along with conservation measures, will help the city prepare for that future. Moreover, the “lost” water eventually adds to the flow of the Yakima River, which has environmental benefits. So the pilot project will help the city learn how much of the added water it can expect will remain in the aquifer over time. But, Pitre said state policy is not clear on how Ecology will determine how much water cities will be allowed to recover from these systems.

State law allows ASR projects to only withdraw the water that remains from what was put in, but it’s complicated to regulate because each aquifer loses water at a different rate. Because of that, Ecology has decided to set the recovery limits on a case by case basis during the permitting process, said Guy Gregory, a hydrogeologist with Ecology. Another challenge for permitting these projects is ensuring that they meet groundwater quality standards. “The state is trying to encourage ASR as a responsible water resource management tool, but they are bumping into this (water quality) regulation we also have to deal with,” Pitre said.

Yakima plans to treat the water, just like the drinking water, before it puts it into the ground. But Haller explained that water quality regulations for groundwater can actually be stricter than drinking water standards, because they are designed to prevent pollution. Yakima treats its water with chlorine to kill pathogens to prevent disease, but that process creates chemicals known as disinfection byproducts, Haller said. The chemicals are considered safe to drink. But since they don’t naturally occur in the groundwater, they can be treated like pollution by regulators. “You have to go through an evaluation of whether it is reasonable to treat and remove (the byproducts) or whether it is OK to degrade groundwater slightly to do this project,” Haller said.

Once the water quality data has been analyzed, the director of the Department of Ecology can determine whether the project’s benefits outweigh the risks and allow it to move forward. That’s what Ecology staff has recommended for the Kennewick project and that’s what Pitre believes will happen for Yakima.   During the experiment in 2000, Pitre said the water quality analysis showed that after six weeks the byproducts broke down into water, chloride and carbon dioxide. The pilot project operating under a temporary permit this summer will also study the water quality, Pitre added, and help the city get a permanent permit.

Once it has that permit, the city can start storing water right away, without needing any construction. It’s one piece of the Integrated Plan that could be up and running quickly. Eventually, Brown said, the city could work with other water users, like the county or irrigation districts, to store water for them as well. “This has lots of long-term potential,” Brown said. “There is hundreds of millions of gallons of free space in this reservoir.”


 Click on image to enlarge. From Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan Climate Change Forecast