Yakima, WA -
3/26/02 - Anyone
doubting the precarious nature of the Yakima River Basin's
water supply need only check what's been going on the past
* Last summer the area chalked up the worst drought on
record, forcing the rationing of irrigation water for many
The drought was immediately followed by one of the wettest
winters on record, with precipitation in the basin, measured
at the reservoirs, now running at about 145 percent of
normal for March. Precipitation at the basin's five
reservoirs year to date is still at 116 percent of average.
It would be
easy to see only the abundance of water we now have, forget
about how dry things were last summer and let a false sense
of security once again lure us into more delays and
postponing of long-range planning for additional storage in
irrigators and state and federal officials are moving ahead
to keep that from happening because, if anything, this very
wet winter is an excellent example of why more storage is
A rule of
thumb is that the basin can produce about 3 million acre
feet of water in a given year's time, but its five storage
reservoirs can only store 1 million acre feet -- the amount
of water needed to cover an acre with water 1 foot deep.
wetness in the mountains is average or above average, we can
still only store about the same amount at any given time.
Let dry winters follow dry summers and things start getting
be nice if some of this winter's abundant water could be
stashed in expanded or new storage facilities as a hedge
against drought, which has occurred with increasing
regularity in the last 25 years.
meantime, until added storage in the basin is a reality, a
couple of other reservoir projects would help ease the
strain on existing facilities.
Ahtanum-area reservoir at Pine Hollow would impound enough
water from Ahtanum Creek to serve 8,000 acres of farmland
for two years.
Black Rock reservoir in an area 40 miles east of Yakima,
near the junction of State routes 241 and 24, would be
larger than all five of the existing basin storage
reservoirs combined. It would draw water from the Columbia
and in so doing provide a firmer water supply to the Roza
Irrigation District while freeing up Yakima River water to
improve flows for fish.
with Gov. Gary Locke and area legislators last week show
both projects are still in the planning and discussion
stages, but also still on track.
There's a new
sense of urgency in water planning these days because the
entire state felt the sting of drought last summer, and
didn't like it. Locke has now stated on several occasions
that increased storage capabilities is a statewide priority.
happen quickly and it won't be cheap. But the economic
consequences of drying up the state's top industry are too
severe to postpone the need to update storage, particularly
in the Yakima Basin.
like to point out when talking about storage that those five
reservoirs that are the lifeline of the Yakima Basin haven't
been expanded since Lake Cle Elum came on line in 1933 --
the same year Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first term
be enough said about the need to upgrade and expand.
Expansion of Bumping Lake, which came on line in 1910, is
one option and there are others, but expanded storage must
happen to meet all the competing water needs of the basin.
So don't let
the wet winter fool you. We've only bought another year of
adequate water supplies, but let dry summers be followed by
dry winters and we're back in the box again.