Ecology Department acquires water rights to help Yakima basin flows

(Press release from WA State Dept. of Ecology)

OLYMPIA, WA 2/3/04 -- Water that once turned power turbines for nearly a century and irrigated crops for more than 120 years will instead flow freely back into the Naches and Yakima rivers.

The Department of Ecology (Ecology) recently signed two agreements worth more than $1.2 million to permanently acquire two large water rights in the region. The department will hold the water in trust to enhance stream flows in the Yakima basin.

Ecology will contribute $1 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) to purchase a 1904 hydropower generation water right at the Naches power plant complex in Yakima County. The water right currently is held by the PacifiCorp utility company.

Up to 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water will be returned to a seven-mile stretch of the Naches River, depending on the time of year. The Bureau will assure that irrigation water continues to be available to farmers who are part of the Wapatox Ditch Company.

The accord is part of a broader $8.5 million deal the Bureau is negotiating with PacifiCorp to purchase both the water right and the land where the two small power plants now sit. The federal agency also is working to acquire canal easements and other property in order to decommission the old hydroelectric complex.

Ecology also has acquired 169 shares of the Fowler Ditch Association irrigation-water rights from Lester and Emma Roy for $218,010. Some of the association's water rights date back to 1880. The department will allow the 363 acre-feet of water to flow back into the adjacent Yakima River to increase flows during the irrigation season. The Bureau purchased the Roys' 400-acre ranch near Union Gap to restore and enhance salmon and streamside habitat along the river.

"These are important, unprecedented investments," said Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons. "It is rare that the state has the opportunity to return permanent supplies of water back into a system that is as economically and environmentally important as the Yakima basin. The benefits for Washington are practically immeasurable."

Several species of threatened fish, including steelhead and bull trout, inhabit streams and rivers in the Yakima basin. However, the populations were put at risk whenever flows dropped too low during summer months.

"We're pleased with these two purchases because they restore important habitat for steelhead and salmon in critical reaches for the entire Yakima basin," said Jim Esget of the Bureau of Reclamation.


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