From its source high in the Cascades, the Yakima River meets myriad streams and rivers as it makes its way through shrub-steppe desert to join the mighty Columbia River. The Yakima is the lifeblood of fish, families and farms in the region and the Yakima Basin is one of the state's most diverse watersheds.
Though farms continue to produce bales of hay and pounds of fruit, and fish return to spawn in their native waters, the Yakima River is not as healthy as it once was. A far-reaching approach is needed to restore the health and integrity of the Yakima Basin and ensure that our public lands remain open for everyone to enjoy - from its forested headwaters to the arid shrub-steppe of the Yakima Valley. To do this, there must be a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the land - now and in the future. The Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan has been offered as a solution.
The big picture of the Yakima plan is to make sure people and nature can continue to flourish and thrive in Central Washington for generations to come, even as climate change affects our way of life. The plan will protect over 200,000 acres of land and about 200 miles of river; improve water quality and quantity; restore salmon and steelhead populations; improve natural and built infrastructure; drive a healthy economy and return jobs to the woods in the Yakima Basin.
The plan made it through the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. Already, the plan has funded conservation of 50,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat in the Teanaway River watershed that was threatened with resort and ranchette development. The legislature also provided seed money for the construction of fish passage into the protected watershed above Cle Elum Dam and for access to new water supplies from existing reservoirs at Kachess and Cle Elum lakes. Fish passage at Lake Cle Elum will allow for restoration of the Cle Elum River’s salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations. Among the fish runs restored will be a huge sockeye salmon run, a cornerstone of the Yakama Nation’s culture that had been absent from the Yakima Basin for nearly 100 years until they were recently reintroduced in anticipation of permanent fish passage. The plan was presented at the 2016 White House Water Summit as an example of how cooperation and collaboration can result in better management of water for economic and environmental benefits.
In 2012, the Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign focused its work on raising awareness and support for the Integrated Plan. EcoFlight conducted overflights of the basin for western governors, campaign supporters and other decision-making officials in 2012 to inform opinions and strengthen their understanding of the watershed. Our flights showed the interconnectedness between the forested headwaters and the basin's lowlands where most of the agriculture is, nestled between worldclass recreation spots and pristine wildlands.
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