Celebrating implications of the Public Lands Act for the Yakima Basin

By Lisa Pelly

Thanks to the efforts of Representatives Schrier and Newhouse and Senator Cantwell, we are thrilled that Washington State’s exemplary Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YBIP) is included in a historic land and water preservation package that President Trump signed into law yesterday.

Trout Unlimited’s efforts in the YBIP is exactly the type of project we take pride in putting our shoulder behind: restoring fisheries, improving our waterways, creating irrigation efficiencies, and supporting the local economy by working to find unity and compromise with a diverse group of stakeholders.

The success of the YBIP is a reminder that big victories don't happen in one, sweeping action. They happen over the course of a long series of community events - attending picnics, listening to presentations, and setting aside time to drink coffee at community meetings with neighbors. They happen through building relationships and in taking field trips on hot summer days. 

For the Yakima Basin, the YBIP was accomplished in this way, and it means historic salmon and steelhead runs will be restored with agricultural and recreational economies benefitting in the process. TU worked with conservation groups, irrigators, farmers, sportsmen and women, local, state, and federal governments and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation to help make this happen.

Pictured above: Collaborators meeting concerning Manastash Creek

The West desperately seeks ways to balance water needs for agriculture and people while conserving and restoring valuable and imperiled fisheries amid growing recreation demands. This challenge is apparent in the Yakima Basin, and was the task of the diverse group at the table charged with forming the YBIP.

We are just eight years into the first decade of this 30-year plan, but already we are tackling urgent projects like conserving 85,000 acre-feet of water, creating a water market, acquiring the Teanaway Community Forest, restoring streams and floodplains, providing fish passage, and raising the pool level at Cle Elum Reservoir.

Above: Urban Eberhart from KRD and Justin Bezold from TU discussing the KRD tributary supplementation project.

The collaborative efforts that led to YBIP have already spurred creative solutions to one of the Basin’s biggest challenges—ensuring adequate water flow for fish.

The Kittitas Reclamation District’s (KRD) tributary supplementation project is a unique effort that helps fish and farmers by improving canal infrastructure to conserve water for fish in the Upper Yakima Basin while simultaneously improving the reliability of irrigation water delivery for farmers. The project eliminates leaking in key canal sections, conserves the previously leaked water, and then delivers it to key streams for fish. The design gives KRD the flexibility to rapidly respond and keep streams flowing to protect and restore habitat vital for Chinook and Coho salmon and Steelhead. TU is proud to be a continuing partner in this project with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Washington’s Department of Ecology. 

Pictured left: KRD Tributary supplementation

Throughout the Yakima Basin, Trout Unlimited is also actively engaged in other stream restoration projects that enhance water flow. We have and continue to actively support programs and funding that help irrigators grow their crops while using less water. In Cowiche Creek, TU continues work with irrigators to reduce their reliance on creek water to enhance stream flows. In Manastash Creek, TU works closely with the Kittitas County Conservation District to restore flows in Manastash Creek by working with irrigators to reduce diversions from the Creek.

Trout Unlimited would also like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Senator Cantwell (D-WA) for her incredible leadership and commitment to Central Washington’s Yakima Basin and its working farmers and ranchers, fish recovery efforts, growing recreational economy, and communities. 

As important as the successes in the Basin, the Yakima Plan can serve as a transferrable model for dealing with water scarcity issues across the West; working collaboratively at a watershed level to craft and implement long term solutions, and getting to know our neighbors. Sen. Cantwell’s work with Senator Murkowski (R-AK) and others have provided an incredible pathway for other basins and watersheds across the U.S. We look forward to doing more of this kind of forward-thinking conservation work that benefits all of us. 

Lisa Pelly is the Washington Water Project director for Trout Unlimited. She lives in Wenatchee. 


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