Monthly Report Archive


Yakima Basin Storage Alliance

To launch a grass-root campaign designed to educate and raise the awareness about irrigated agriculture and its relationship with Washington State communities and economies.

To provide evidenced demonstrating why the Yakima Basin desperately needs increased storage.

To illustrate that the Yakima Basin’s economies are in jeopardy if we do not increase water storage for the Yakima Basin.

To become a resource and catalysts for storage activism, both locally and statewide.  To actively investigate, identify, assess, and promote storage solutions while presenting a unified, informed alliance to engage opposition.

To become the umbrella organization for Yakima Basin storage supporters, forging a foundation for political and social reform that will result in increased storage to benefit irrigated agriculture, instream flows, salmon recovery, Yakima River ecology, and Yakima Basin communities.

Yakima River Basin

The Yakima River flows 215 miles from the outlet of Keechelus Lake in the central Washington Cascades southeasterly to the Columbia River, draining an area of 6,155 square miles. The Yakima River Basin is one of the most intensively irrigated areas in the United States. Population in the Yakima River Basin was about 238,000 in 1990.Increasing demands for water for municipal, fisheries, agricultural, industrial, and recreational uses will affect the ground-water resources of the basin. A better understanding of the ground-water flow system and its relation to rivers and streams is needed to effectively manage the basin’s water resources.

In cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Yakama Indian Nation, the USGS is studying the ground-water system in the Yakima River Basin and how it interacts with rivers and streams in the basin. The study includes data collection, mapping of hydrogeologic units and ground-water levels, and a computer numerical model to bring together all the information.


Funding for Yakima water plan back in front of Congress

By Luke Thompson Yakima Herald Republic January 31, 2018

Crucial federal funding to improve the Yakima River Basin’s water supply is once again before Congress, but language in a House bill could spell trouble.

A bill introduced last November by Rep. Dan Newhouse and co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Reichert would provide $237 million in much-needed matching funds to help pay for various basin projects to aid during times of drought. Click Here for Full Story


Planned water utility for Yakima County met with some pushback in rural areas

By Phil Ferolito, Yakima Herald Republic
October 28, 2017

Jerry Rank is busier than ever with rural landowners who want domestic wells drilled before Jan. 1, when new county rules imposing permits and fees for new wells take effect.

Rank says he’s drilling from one to three wells a week in unincorporated areas of Yakima County and that his calendar is particularly booked in December.

“We’re swamped,” he said.

Until now, rural domestic wells — those drawing less than 5,000 gallons a day to serve homes, small businesses and livestock — have been exempt from requiring a water rights permit. And there was no charge for the water used from the wells.

That’s all about to change in most of rural Yakima County, where new rules will fundamentally change how development will occur there.

There’s only so much water in the Yakima Basin to go around, and Yakima County officials say they want to avoid the quagmire that occurred in Kittitas County several years ago when senior water rights holders sued the county, saying its approval of rural housing was affecting their water supplies. As a result, some property owners couldn’t build homes unless they first acquired water rights.

In a similar case, the state Supreme Court ruled Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flows in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must ensure that water is physically and legally available before issuing building permits in some areas. Because of the ruling, some counties temporarily stopped some rural development, leaving angry and frustrated property owners unable to build.

To ensure rural development can continue, Yakima County plans to establish a water utility. It will acquire senior water rights and require a permit, plus charge service and usage fees on all new rural domestic wells in unincorporated areas of the county. The county would retain control of those water rights.

Revenue from the county’s utility would be used to buy more senior water rights in the future to be used for rural development.

Commissioners expect to approve an ordinance establishing the utility sometime next month.

But not everyone is happy with the proposed utility, or agrees with the Supreme Court ruling.

“All of this talk about water is a bunch of bull,” said Rank, owner of Oasis Drilling. “This is all about control and grab, and people in this state are getting tired of it.”

The Yakima Association of Realtors is concerned and has its legal experts reviewing the proposed utility, said president-elect Alice Villasenor.

“We will wait to hear back from these experts before the association takes a formal stance,” she said. “The changes are substantial enough and could have a direct impact to our clients.”

Yakima County Commissioner Ron Anderson, former owner of Dedicated Realty, said he hasn’t received any complaints about the proposed utility from the real estate community but added people in general need to become educated about why the utility is needed.

“If we don’t do what we’re proposing, nobody is going to have water and we’re going to be in a bad position down the road,” he said. “We had to decide what we’re going to do to be proactive. This will be the best outcome we can get to protect property rights and development long-term.”

The water utility

Yakima County has received a $500,000 state grant to buy the initial round of water rights to kick-start the utility. Meanwhile, the state Department of Ecology has also loaned the county a senior water right of about 100 acre feet — enough for about 1,000 homes — until the county closes on a water rights purchase from a private holder. The county expects to close the deal by the end of the year, county Commissioner Mike Leita said.

Water rights in Yakima County can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 per acre foot, said water rights consultant Dan Haller with Aspect Consulting, which has offices throughout the region, including Portland, Seattle and Yakima.

An acre-foot is enough to cover an acre with one foot of water or supply water for up to 10 homes.

Landowner Matthew Bower, who recently had a well drilled on his property north of Zillah, said people choose rural property to escape the tighter government regulations of city life and the utility undermines that. He won’t be impacted because his well went in before the utility is in place.

“The water in our aquifer, we need to steward it very well, but at the same time the county is saying pay,” he said. “They’re not giving more water — it’s another fee, another tax.”

Leita, who has worked on the water issue for nearly a decade, said there’s only so much water available and nearly every drop must be accounted for.

“When you go into the ground, you take water from somewhere else, someone else,” he said. “We’ve reached a point where we’re saturated. All the water has been allocated.”

Avoiding a shutdown

Yakima County isn’t alone. Other counties across the state have faced, or will face, similar challenges.

Yakima is somewhat ahead of the curve in that it saw what happened in Kittitas County several years ago and began planning its water utility as a result.

In 2009, senior water rights holders in Kittitas County sued the county, saying they had been impacted by a proliferation of rural domestic wells exempt from water right permits.

As a result, a moratorium on new rural construction was enacted in Kittitas County.

The halt of anticipated construction dampened revenue streams and the overall economy in the county, said Jeremy Bach, president of the Washington State Groundwater Association.

“It caused a serious amount of damage in Kittitas County,” he said. “I couldn’t even quantify the dollar amount in development money alone held up, and that decreased the tax base. It halted everything in Kittitas County.”

That’s a scenario Yakima County commissioners say they want to avoid.

“The water system will work to keep development moving forward without threat of a lawsuit,” Leita said. “No. 1, we will not be shut down. No. 2, we will not restrict use or access.”

The Kittitas County shutdown ushered in private water banks, in which senior water rights holders began to sell water rights at a retail, rather than wholesale, price to landowners wanting to build, Bach said.

Kittitas County now has a mix of private- and county-operated water banks. The location of a proposed well determines which type of bank will be used, he said.

Under Kittitas County’s water bank, landowners have two options, one for those who will use their domestic wells to water their yards for $3,995 a year, and one only seeking household use for $3,080 a year. Both options also charge an annual $180 metering fee.

A third option allows residents to haul water from somewhere else in the event a well cannot be drilled and costs $1,880 a year. The water brought in requires a mitigation certificate accounting for where the water was drawn.

Yakima County’s water utility is cheaper than most municipalities.

“Overall, I think this is the best way to go,” Anderson said. “The reality is, things have changed and the state has made a mandate to counties. We have to do what we have to do here.”

Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or Follow him on Twitter at


Yakima County officials unveil rural water plan and related fees

YAKIMA, Wash. — Come January, new rural domestic wells in unincorporated areas of Yakima County will cost landowners $1,150 in connection permits and meter installation fees in addition to routine service and consumption fees.

On Tuesday, Yakima County officials unveiled to a dozen builders, lenders and real estate agents details about the county’s water utility, a plan intended to ensure enough water for rural development well into the future.

Until now, rights to most domestic well water was considered to be the property owner’s. But water rights to any future domestic wells belong to the county under a program to assure development can occur without risking legal challenges.

In addition to the one-time permitting and hookup and metering fees, landowners would pay a $35 quarterly service fee as well as annual consumption fees based on the amount of water used.

The average annual consumption cost would be about $177 a year based on 460 gallons a day, which is the typical consumption of a family, according to county Public Services Director Vern Redifer.

The rate is well below what most municipalities charge, Redifer said.

Joe Walsh, government affairs director for the Central Washington Home Builders Association, likes the plan.

“It sounds like it’s something that people can work with,” he said after the presentation. “Property owners that want a rural lifestyle out in the country can still afford that. It’s not a tremendous burden cost-wise.”

It’s no secret water in the county is overallocated, and senior water rights holders have long worried about the impact exempt rural domestic wells are having on their water availability.

Exempt wells are those that draw less than 5,000 gallons per day to serve homes, small businesses, noncommercial lawns, gardens and livestock.

Until now, these wells have been exempt from requiring a water rights permit.

Problems with the overallocation of water stemming from too many exempt wells severely impacted Kittitas County, where a moratorium was enacted on new rural domestic wells after senior water rights holders sued the county, saying they were hurt by a proliferation of exempt wells.

In effort to avoid such a situation here, Yakima County leaders, environmentalist, and the largest senior rights water holders in the area — including the Yakama Nation and the Bureau of Reclamation — began meeting to devise a water plan.

Part of that is the county’s water utility, or the Yakima County Water Resource System. Under the system, the county purchases senior water rights and used them for rural development.

The county has acquired enough senior water rights to allow for 100 homes to be built a year for the next 10 years, Redifer said.

Commissioners expect to adopt an ordinance establishing the water utility by December with implementation beginning in January.

“This is about water security and avoiding any future lawsuits because we’ll lose,” Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said. “The handwriting is on the walls.”


S.714 – Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2017 Click Here

Washington’s 40-year water conflict nears its conclusion

By Dave Lester
Yakima Herald-Republic
Sep 2, 2017


The Kachess Dam and Reservoir near Snoqualmie Pass on Nov. 13, 2013. (KAITLYN BERNAUER/Yakima Herald-Republic)

A photo provided by Roza Irrigation District shows the exposed narrows between Upper Lake Kachess and Lower Lake Kachess during the 2015 drought.

At long last, an end is in sight.

The biggest, longest, most expensive legal battle in Washington state history is finally drawing toward a conclusion.

Dating to 1977, the case grew out of a potentially catastrophic drought that threatened thousands of Yakima Valley farm families and further endangered the region’s iconic, but ailing, salmon runs.

What has emerged — after 40 years of litigation known as adjudication — is a system that clarifies water rights, brought together former adversaries and put the Yakima Basin ahead of other Western basins where water conflicts remain unresolved in the face of looming issues like climate change.

“I think it would be fantastic if all basins in the West went through adjudication,” said Lisa Pelly, Washington director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project, which works to restore healthy stream flows and habitat. “This has been incredibly expensive for the state and landowners to go through. But it provides such a sense of security about what is available for instream flows and for agriculture. New projects are so much easier to get done.”

“The fighting that used to occur is no longer happening” said Stan Isley, a state Department of Ecology water conservation liaison between Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “I have never seen that before. This is a collaborative approach to water management that we can export to every drainage basin in the West.”

None of that was in play in January 1977 when federal Bureau of Reclamation rocked the Valley with a forecast that water users, primarily in the Roza and the Kittitas Reclamation districts, would receive a mere 6 percent of a full supply. High-valued crops such as fruit, grapes, hops, mint and timothy hay would wither and die with so little water.

Looking back four decades, it’s hard to recall how dire the situation seemed.

Worried lawmakers in Olympia approved an emergency cloud seeding program. Some 400 temporary emergency permits were issued for new wells. In a measure that went nowhere, some proposed building a $90 million canal to carry water from the Columbia River to the Yakima basin.

The looming shortage only served to exacerbate the long-standing problem of too many water claims for a limited supply of water.

Cities, irrigation districts, individual farmers, the Yakama Nation and others all claimed more water than might be available even in a good water year.

“This basin has long been thought to be over-appropriated,” explained Ecology’s Becky Johnson in 1999, who worked for the court. “In a basin that is over-appropriated, it’s important to establish who has water rights and to prioritize those rights. In a water-short year, that can mean the difference of whether you do or don’t have water.”

Whose water needs are met and whose are denied is a basic tenet of Washington water. The oldest rights have first call on water. When not enough is available to meet all needs, the older, senior rights are met first and the junior users, like Roza and Kittitas, share what is left. The two districts have entirely junior rights.

The early 1977 outlook ultimately proved inaccurate because of a forecasting error. But by then the fight was on.

Irrigators were in court to challenge the existing water distribution formula. The Yakama Nation, with its time immemorial right to water for its needs, asked a federal court to formalize 
its pre-eminent position in the water rights pecking order.

At the suggestion of a federal judge who heard the Yakama Nation’s request, the state Department of Ecology decided to reach into its arsenal for a tool to bring some order to the fear, confusion and uncertainty.

That mechanism was the adjudication law.

The first person listed in Ecology’s petition for an adjudication was James Acquavella, who simply wanted to know if he was going to get the water he believed he was entitled to in order to irrigate his 5 acres. And thus began the long saga of Ecology v. James Acquavella — or simply the Acquavella Case.

On Oct. 12, 1977, Ecology filed a lawsuit naming individuals, irrigation districts, municipalities, the Yakama Nation and federal rights for agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and others as defendants. The case required all claimants to show proof of a valid right.

Ultimately, that case would involve 2,500 water rights across the 6,000-square-mile basin, stretching from near the Cascade crest to the mouth of the Yakima River at Richland.

Over the years, elements of the case went to the state Supreme Court four times.

Alan Reichman, a senior counsel with the Washington Attorney General’s Office representing the Ecology Department, said the sheer quantity and complexity of private, state, federal and tribal water rights contributed to the time the adjudication consumed.

But the effort has value that will continue well into the future, he said.

“I think it has been worth it,” said Reichman, who has represented Ecology in the case since 1996. “Having clarity as to who holds surface water rights has brought more in terms of stability of expectations for an orderly water system in a basin where water is critical for agriculture, cultural values and recreation.”

Yakima County Judge James Gavin recently signed a proposed final order that will conclude the case next year after the thousands of parties to the case have a chance to file challenges to the final report.

When complete, as early as next April, every water user will know the amount of their right to water and where theirs stands in relation to all others.

Scott Revell, manager of the 72,000-acre Roza Irrigation District, a major claimant in the case, said the case provided certainty for all water users.

“It has made it easier for us to work together because we all have a good handle on our water right,” he said. “Those who gave up water have accepted it. They may not like it, but they have accepted it. We have a degree of certainty and it is not just fighting at all costs.”

As a result of the 1977 drought and subsequent Acquavella case, the basin today has modern fish ladders and screens at basin dams to aid fish passage. More water is flowing for fish in the Yakima River because of conservation programs, improved efficiency and modern facilities for irrigation. Small but important fish spawning and rearing streams like Kittitas County’s Manastash Creek and Cowiche Creek, west of Yakima, are carrying more water.

It also helped set the stage for the what’s ahead — a push for funding for new storage to insulate the basin from future droughts, led by a broad coalition of interests, including irrigators, the Yakama Nation, and state and federal agencies.

Reichman agreed that the Yakima River Basin is now far ahead of other basins in the West where conflicts over water remain unresolved in the face of looming issues like climate change and its potential impact on water supplies.

“It led to a level of cooperation to move forward for all interests to improve the future for irrigation and more water meant to stay in the river.” he said. “A lot has come out of the adjudication that led to where we are today.”


Watching the water supply

Water for the Yakima Basin: The water remaining in the 5 reservoirs is at 50% of capacity. With higher than average temperatures and an irrigation season that will need stored water for approximately 45 more days, it appears there will be enough stored water for 2017. The percentage of total water available in all the reservoirs drops 1-2% per day. Last year’s large snowpack and spring rains provided 2/3 of the water needed this summer.

The Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain fires are destroying large amounts of cover in the Cascade Range. That cover helps hold the snowpack which supplies the water needed for the Yakima Basin. That and possible climate change contribute to the need for additional storage.

Clickable Reservoir Storage and Streamflow Diagram


The cost of drought (sidebar on article)

In 2015 about 85 percent of Washington was determined to be in extreme drought status, and temperatures were the warmest ever recorded in the state, according to meteorologist Nic Loyd of Washington State University. The high temperatures caused precipitation that would have fallen as snow to fall as rain instead. Lake Kachess was drawn down to some of its lowest levels in years.

The Washington state Department of Agriculture commissioned a study on the economic impacts of the drought in 2016. According to the report, the Kittitas County Reclamation District farmers lost $11.4 million from crop reductions in apples, oats, pears and grass hays. In Roza, the total loss was estimated to be about $75.7 million. The Wapato Irrigation Project estimated losses about $32.7 million. The study was done by surveying farmers in the district and extrapolating based on their losses.

According to an analysis of the report done by the Washington State Academy of Sciences, the losses may have been exaggerated due to the higher market prices of commodities caused by the drought. The Academy of Sciences recommended the Department of Agriculture use a known economic model in future reports.

Adjudication Yakima River BasinThe Department of Ecology has set a public hearing at the Department of Ecology in the Union Gap office for Wednesday, September 6th from 5:00-7:00 pm.The Ecology and the Yakima River Basin are entering into a new era as the state’s longest water right adjudication will soon be finalized. The historic Ecology vs. Acquavella et al has helped to clarify the state’s water laws and will provide water users certainty. Old claims and conflicts are being settled and the foundation laid for successes we’re seeing with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.Acquavella adjudication winding down. In a fertile valley where water is king Yakima River water-rights case clarifies water law while drought has plagued our state. For a retrospect, please read the ECOconnect blog at 

Yakima Project “Flip-Flop” Operations Underway

YAKIMA, Washington – The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will begin the annual “flip-flop” operation in the Yakima Basin by gradually reducing flows out of Cle Elum Reservoir in the upper Yakima River basin and increasing flows from Rimrock Reservoir affecting flows in the Tieton and Naches Rivers.

The purpose of the “flip-flop” operation is to achieve and maintain relatively low flows in the upper Yakima, Cle Elum, and Bumping rivers where spring Chinook salmon spawn. These lower flows are closer to natural flow conditions and are therefore more helpful to successful spawning and incubation of salmon eggs. This operation also reduces impacts on irrigation water supply by allowing for lower flow releases throughout the winter to improve reservoir storage for the coming season.

As part of the process, on or about Sept. 8, Reclamation will begin diverting water down the Kittitas Reclamation District’s Spillway 1146 into the Yakima River near Thorp. Reclamation will install buoys that will be in place from Sept. 8 until about Oct. 21. Recreationists are strongly advised, for their safety and well-being, to portage around the buoys and stay out of the dangerously turbulent flows.

“Those who are enjoying the river should definitely avoid the dangerously turbulent water in the area where the spillway water pours into the river,” said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project River Operations supervisor.

Flows out of Cle Elum Reservoir have been gradually decreasing since Aug. 1 from a high of about 2,700 cfs and will continue to decline to a low of about 180 cfs in early September. Flows from Rimrock Reservoir are expected to be in the 900 to 1,200 cfs range by Sept. 1 and increase to about 1,800 cfs by mid-September depending on irrigation demands and weather conditions.

Streamflow changes will occur gradually during the Labor Day holiday weekend. Streamflow information can be obtained by calling (509) 575-5854 or on Reclamation’s website at:

Video Explanation on Flip-Flop

Why Pump Storage

It’s time to consider how to bring water from the Columbia River to the Yakima Basin. With more frequent droughts predicted, a new pump storage project similar to the former Black Rock Reservoir site would provide the water necessary to meet the needs for instream flow (fish), out-of-stream use (agriculture), and economic and municipal growth.

Pump Storage – A Viable Solution

  • Columbia River flows have increased for decades.
  • Pump water into the new Pump Storage Project during the spring when the Columbia River runs high and the wind blows.
  • Use the electricity generated by the wind to operate the pumps.
  • Design the new Pump Storage Project to provide a 70% supply of water to cover proratable water rights over a two year drought.
  • Using Columbia River water for Sunnyside and Roza Irrigation Districts will allow the water remaining in the reservoirs in the Yakima Basin to be used for instream flow and water for proratable irrigation districts.
  • The increased water made available in the Yakima Basin’s reservoirs would provide additional water in the Yakima River to ensure the success of the Sockeye population, recharge the flood plain, and make more water available for fish passage.
  • With the reduction of ground water availability, a more permanent source of irrigation water would be needed to offset groundwater losses.
  • A pump storage project, such as Black Rock, would make private-public financing more viable.
  • Seepage from the new Pumped Storage Project would not affect Drinking Water Standards (SWS) on the Hanford Reservation. Se Section V of the Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford site, Richland, Washington (Draft TC & WMEIS).
  • By using pumped storage for irrigation, additional water from the Yakima River would be made available to increase the flows in the Columbia River during summer and fall.
  • The prediction of more years of droughts in the Yakima Basin make it necessary to access Columbia River water which would maintain and improve fish passage and agriculture production.
  • Electric power generation would provide electricity for the Bonneville Power Administration Electrical Distribution System.

ybsa infographic

Reclamation awards $2.3 million contract for radial gate modifications at Cle Elum Dam

BOISE, Idaho- The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $2.3 million contract to Redside Construction, LLC, a small business based in Bainbridge, WA, to increase the height of radial gates atop Cle Elum Dam.

Once shoreline protection measures are put into place, the work will allow for a three-foot increase of the reservoir’s pool level. The Cle Elum pool raise project is a component of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, the result of a partnership of stakeholders that has identified a comprehensive approach to water resource management and ecosystem restoration.

This first phase of construction could begin as early as November and is to be completed by July 2018.

“This is a great example of diverse partners coming together to identify solutions to complex water resource issues,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López. “At a time when many western states are struggling with drought, partnerships such as these are great opportunities to create workable solutions that will benefit a multitude of people in this area.”

Redside Construction specializes in marine construction, heavy civil projects and general public works. It has completed hundreds of private and public projects since 1984.


Teanaway River near Cle Elum

Teanaway River During Drought

Lake Cle Elum Low WaterLake Cle Elum

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

[counterize type=”totalhits” print_header=”no” period=”total”]