Major Step Forward for Yakima Basin Water Supply and River Restoration Plan: Sen. Maria Cantwell Introduces Legislation for Precedent-Setting Water Deal

Jul 1, 2015

Washington's Yakima watershed is a popular destination for families looking for fishing, hiking, boating, skiing, and other outdoor recreation activities.

Photo by Holly Werran.
A groundbreaking plan to address water supply and river restoration in the Pacific Northwest got a major boost today with the introduction of legislation to help ensure reliable water supplies for fish, farms, and families.

The legislation will support efforts to make droughts like the one the Yakima Basin is experiencing this year less of a hardship for both farms and fish.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a bill (S.1694) with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) co-sponsoring, titled the “Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement III Act of 2015,” that builds on two previous Yakima River water management laws to authorize projects and funding for the first phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (Yakima Plan).

The Yakima Plan is a multifaceted agreement hammered out by a diverse coalition of conservationists, farmers, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and state and federal governments. The plan will restore what could become the largest sockeye salmon run in the lower 48 states and dramatically improve water security for farmers, all while protecting more than 200,000 acres of public lands and roughly 200 miles of pristine streams prized for recreation and wildlife habitat.

American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, The Wilderness Society, and other backers of the Yakima Plan hailed the bill’s introduction as a major step toward ending a 30-year old fish-versus-farms feud over water. The groups released a new short film, “This River Runs Forever” celebrating the collaborative agreement (available at www.yakimariver.org).

“Sen. Cantwell’s visionary leadership means that farmers of the Yakima Basin will see more reliable water supplies, anglers will see increased salmon runs, and families will have new places to hike, camp, and enjoy the Northwest’s unique quality of life,” said Michael Garrity, Director of Rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin for American Rivers. “The Yakima Plan provides a model for solving western water and drought conflicts through collaboration, not confrontation.”  

Conservation groups praised the plan’s inclusion of fish passage at Cle Elum and Tieton dams, which will allow salmon and steelhead to reach headwaters streams above those dams for the first time in a century.

The Yakima River contributes to many aspects of Washington’s high quality of life. The river supports salmon runs which have helped sustain the Yakama Nation for millennia, and provides fishing opportunities for residents and visitors. The river’s water irrigates abundant crops including apples, peaches, cherries, grapes, and hops—essential for the region’s many breweries. And the Yakima watershed is a popular destination for families looking for hiking, boating, skiing, and other outdoor activities.

“This plan is a major win for smart water use up and down the Yakima River,” said Lisa Pelly, Director of the Washington Water Project for Trout Unlimited. “We are thrilled with the diversity of partners that have pledged their support for this legislation that provides innovation and collaboration as we all prepare for future droughts in the Yakima Basin.

The bill builds on land conservation victories already accomplished at the state level, in particular the acquisition of more than 50,000 acres in the Teanaway River Valley in 2013 as Washington’s first Community Forest.

“The Yakima Plan protects public lands and waters for all to enjoy, and ensures places like the Teanaway Community Forest support economies of surrounding communities and enable more people to enjoy the basin’s world-class recreation opportunities,” said Ben Greuel, Washington State Director for The Wilderness Society. “The Yakima Plan really does provide the whole package, and we applaud Sens. Cantwell and Murray for their continuing leadership and engagement.”

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The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.

Ben Greuel
360-670-2938