YAKIMA, Wash. -- The massive public-lands bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday includes Yakima Basin water storage and habitat restoration projects.
The measure, which includes 110 pieces of legislation supporting land and conservation projects across the country, was sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, a Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican. The House is expected to approve an identical bill soon.
The legislation focusing on the Yakima Basin supports a water storage project at Lake Kachess that would help Yakima Valley growers, allocates $75 million to improve water delivery in the dilapidated Wapato Irrigation Project, and improves fish passage in the basin.
Water supply is over-allocated in the Yakima Basin, and climate change further complicates the issue.
Local, state, tribal and federal officials and growers for years have worked on what is known as the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Management Plan. The 30-year plan is designed to ensure enough water for farms, fish and people.
The bill aims to help achieve that, said Cantwell, who applauded the teamwork of the varying groups that devised the basinwide plan.
“I do think the Yakima Basin has the potential of becoming a national model,” she said. “It’s a really important big step forward, and it shows that if you work together you get results instead of creating a water war.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, applauded Cantwell’s success, saying he’s confident the House will approve the measure.
“I congratulate Sen. Cantwell on securing Senate passage of the bipartisan lands package that includes the legislation we worked on to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. I will continue to work across party lines to support House passage and send this bill to President Trump to sign into law,” Newhouse said in a statement Tuesday.
Newhouse is co-sponsoring the legislation with U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, who was elected last fall in Washington’s 8th District.
Tom Tebb, director of the state Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River, said the bill would be a boon for the basinwide plan if it receives final approval.
“This is a big deal,” he said.
Passage would allow access to federal lands for water-storage projects. Such approval gives him leverage in seeking state funding.
“This legislation is key for that, and I will be able to go back to the Legislature and say we’ve got a federal partner.”
Wapato Irrigation Project
Operated by the federal government on the Yakama reservation, the antiquated Wapato Irrigation Project is in disarray. Water delivery to the 142,000 acres in the district often is hampered by leaky ditches, crumbling diversion boxes and failing pumps.
The Yakama Nation has embarked on a water conservation and conveyance program to improve the district, and the $75 million earmarked in the bill would help make that happen, Tebb said.
Pumps would be replaced and several open ditches would be piped, he said.
The bill would support the construction of a pumping station on federal land to allow the Roza Irrigation District to tap more water in the Lake Kachess reservoir — up to 200,000 acre feet — during drought years, Tebb said.
Water users in the irrigation district said they’re willing to pay for a project that would nearly meet the future water storage goal of that area, he said.
“That gets us a long way to our goal of 214,614 acre-feet to comply with the Teanaway Community Forest storage goal,” Tebb said, referring to the state’s purchase of land in the Teanaway watershed in 2013. The effort was part of the Yakima plan.
An acre-foot of water is enough to cover 1 acre of land to a depth of 1 foot, or more than 325,000 gallons.
Lake Kachess residents have voiced opposition to the pumping project.
The bill also supports a project piping the Keechelus and Kachess reservoirs to improve water storage. The Kachess is a deeper reservoir with a smaller watershed, while Keechelus is shallow with a larger watershed. Piping them together would allow the Kachess to capture more water from Keechelus’ larger watershed, Tebb said.
However, that project is unlikely because it would be too expensive, he said.
The bill also supports additional analysis and a feasibility study of the Bumping and Wymer reservoirs for possible water-storage increases, Tebb said.
The bill calls for the federal government to work with state and local officials to install groundwater recharge wells or devise diversions to send water to groundwater recharging areas.
“We know that in the Yakima Basin, water has been a challenge for a long time,” Cantwell said. “This is a good push forward on some achievable things we can get done, and we should get them done as soon as possible.”