Monthly Report Archive


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.


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.





Teacup Reservoirs 10 6 14


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