As the 2016 irrigation season comes to a close, KID is grateful for the improved water supply and snowpack conditions in the basin that have enabled us to avoid any watering restrictions this year.
However, the possibility of drought in the Yakima basin always looms, as we were reminded of again this spring when predictions for a full water supply were quickly downgraded by warm temperatures and rapid melt of the mountain snowpack. In fact, April through August of this year was the driest ever measured in the 105-year record at the five United States Bureau of Reclamation storage reservoirs in the Cascade Range. Fortunately, summer temperatures turned out to be mostly in the normal range in the lower basin, with short periods of intense heat that contrasted greatly with the longer periods of hotter weather that we experienced during the record setting drought of 2015. This led to improved flow conditions in the lower Yakima River, which allowed for KID to receive enough water to meet all demands in the district this year. KID receives its water supply from return flows in the Yakima River, which is water that has already been diverted and used by upstream users before returning to the river for use by KID.
“April through August of this year was the driest ever measured in the 105-year record at the five United States Bureau of Reclamation storage reservoirs in the Cascade Range.”
While this was great news for this year, future years may not be so good, as our community experienced with the drought conditions in 2015 that led to water supply shortages for the KID and other Yakima basin water users. In order to combat future droughts and ensure that there is enough water in the basin for fish, farms, and families, KID is actively working to enhance and protect our communities’ water supplies and to increase our resiliency during future droughts. An important part of KID’s ongoing efforts includes participating in the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan workgroup, and being actively engaged with the authorizing legislation which was introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell in July of 2015 and passed the Senate in April of this year as a part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. A companion bill (H.R. 4686) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Reichert and Newhouse, but was not considered for a vote. The House did pass its own energy legislation, however, and it is possible that the Yakima language will be included in the compromise energy bill that will result from negotiations between the Senate and House. KID supports the efforts to pass and implement this legislation in a manner that continues to protect and preserve existing water rights and water supply in the Yakima River basin.
The Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, or IP, is a comprehensive plan to address water-related problems in the Yakima River watershed. Participants in the IP process include federal and state agencies, the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, cities, counties, and environmental advocacy groups. The IP consists of seven elements: fish passage, fish habitat enhancement, modifying existing structures and operations, surface storage, market-based reallocation, groundwater storage, and enhanced water conservation. When complete, the multi-billion dollar project will improve stream and habitat conditions for salmon and other fish and wildlife species, as well as provide greater water supply reliability for farmers and communities in the basin. It is expected that it will take 30 to 50 years to complete the project in its entirety.
KID continues to work closely with the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) to perform detailed modeling of the lower river, so that impacts of the IP actions (including water conservation) on KID water supplies can be evaluated. Results of the modeling will be utilized to inform decisions to protect KID’s water supply, such as the electrification of the hydraulic pumps at Chandler, a project that has already been authorized by Congress.
KID also continues to lead a subgroup of regional stakeholders, to take a closer look at lower Yakima River issues, including fish habitat conditions and the electrification of the Chandler pumps. The group has recently formulated an action plan for improving habitat conditions in the lower Yakima River, which includes specific projects to be carried out in the coming years. These projects include identifying potential adult fish passage barriers in the lower river, assessing opportunities to enhance cold water refugia for fish in the lower river through aquifer recharge, adding more water quality monitoring stations in the lower river, and supporting the breaching of the causeway at Bateman Island to improve flows and temperature conditions for fish in the Yakima River delta. KID strongly supports these projects, and greatly appreciates the relationships being built in the process with the Yakama Nation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Benton Conservation District, National Marine Fisheries Service, and other stakeholders.