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Looking back, looking forward: 2-year-old basin water plan takes on substance

By MIKE JOHNSTON
Ellensburg Daily Record
The Yakima River basin’s 2-year-old plan to steer clear of future droughts and build up dwindling fish runs isn’t just sitting on the shelf.

The Yakima River basin’s 2-year-old plan to steer clear of future droughts and build up dwindling fish runs isn’t just sitting on the shelf.

The Yakima River Basin Water Integrated Plan received $132 million in state funding in June, including $100 million to buy 50,000 acres of private forest lands in the Teanaway River Valley north of Cle Elum.

Michael Garrity of the environmental group American Rivers has been involved in the discussions.

Q: What was the most important aspect of the plan that happened this year in your opinion?

I would say that the most significant event was the passage of the bill that funded the state’s initial investment in the Yakima plan. (This includes among other things) full and immediate protection of the 50,000-acre Teanaway property, water conservation including that in the Manastash, and funding to get the Cle Elum fish passage, Cle Elum (reservoir) pool raise, and the Kachess drought relief pumping construction ready by 2015. This helped tee up the first phase of the Yakima plan.

Q: What does coming to a historic agreement on the basin plan in early 2012 mean when looking back at several failed attempts to do the same in past years?

Two things: First, an agreement among all involved to focus on a combination of in-basin habitat and water issues, rather than pumping water from another over-subscribed (or over-appropriated) river (the Columbia) into the Yakima basin.

Second, a sincere commitment among the major stakeholders to consider supporting actions they had no history (of) supporting.

In our case (environmental and conservation groups), that included water storage proposals. For others, it included land acquisition, fish passage and new federal protections for land and rivers.

Q: What does the purchase by the state of the Teanaway lands this fall signify to you?

The protection of the Teanaway is a testament to the power of stakeholder coalitions that include former adversaries pushing for common goals. The Yakima basin plan coalition shows what can be accomplished when stakeholders work together and are willing to take some risks and make some compromises in pursuit of a collaborative solution that furthers a variety of interests. ...

It also shows the power of collaboration, pragmatism and negotiating from interest rather than ideology. Water and habitat issues and how to solve them will vary by river basin, but the stakeholder collaboration model forged in the Yakima basin can be successfully emulated elsewhere. ...

The Teanaway community forest planning process is about to get off the ground, and I’m excited at the potential of the process to support floodplain, meadow, and salmon restoration projects and, simultaneously, improve the health of the Teanaway watershed and the public’s ability to enjoy it.

Q: What’s the big challenge now in implementing the plan to get water and fish saving projects done?

Since the success of the Yakima plan depends, in part, on a federal contribution, I think our biggest challenge is overcoming a dysfunctional environment in the nation’s capitol (in order to gain federal funding).

That said, thanks to the broad coalition behind the Yakima plan and the project’s relatively modest first 10-year phase, I think we’ve a good chance of success in D.C. and of building on our success in Olympia.

Q: What’s the immediate future look like for the basin plan?

The focus now is on funding and implementing the Yakima plan’s first 10-year phase, which includes fish passage at Cle Elum reservoir and elsewhere, additional habitat restoration and protection, water conservation, and accessing additional stored water at Kachess and Cle Elum reservoirs.

The first phase contains actions from all seven Yakima plan elements and seeks to ensure that all stakeholders will see significant progress on a variety of habitat, fish, and water issues over the next decade.

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