Restore the Yakima River and its salmon!

For nearly three years, I’ve been working with the Yakama Indian Nation and conservation partners at the National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, and Trout Unlimited (among others) to negotiate a package of habitat restoration and protection and water management measures to restore central Washington’s Yakima River and its salmon and steelhead in a way that earns the lasting support of the Yakama Nation, local farmers, and local communities.

Earlier this year, the multi-stakeholder Yakima Workgroup agreed on a general plan [PDF] to restore hundreds of thousands of salmon to the Yakima River and its tributaries, including what could be the largest sockeye salmon run in the lower 48 states.

In spite of some tough trade-offs (namely new and expanded water storage dams at Wymer Canyon and Bumping Lake, respectively), the plan will add up to a much healthier Yakima watershed by providing for:

  • Fish passage into the high elevation Cascade Mountain spawning habitat for the first time since headwater storage dams were built a century ago;
  • Designation of 12 new Wild and Scenic rivers, over 20,000 acres of Wilderness area additions, and two new National Recreation Areas; 
  • On-farm water conservation;
  • More robust water markets;
  • Groundwater recharge to improve late summer stream flows;
  • Re-operation and possible removal of some existing irrigation diversion dams;
  • Protection of threatened landscapes like 46,000 acres in the Teanaway River Valley; and
  • River and stream restoration, including an ambitious floodplain restoration plan.

The result of these actions will be a restored salmon and trout fishery, more resilience to the impacts of climate change, and healthier rivers and streams from the Yakima’s Cascade Mountain headwaters to its confluence with the Columbia River.

The plan would also set a new, higher (and much greener!) standard for western water management.

With the release of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have taken a significant step toward making this ambitious restoration and water management plan a reality – but your input is needed to help improve the plan and to show support for restoring the Yakima River and its salmon.

The agencies are accepting public comment on the plan through January 3, 2012.

Comments can be emailed to Ms. Candace McKinley at the Bureau of Reclamation at

Points to consider making in your comments:

  • Express support for moving forward with a comprehensive plan to restore healthy, fishable salmon and steelhead runs numbering in the hundreds of thousands and access to high elevation habitat that will be resilient in the face of climate change 
  • The EIS should provide costs and benefits for individual water and river/fish restoration projects as well as for the whole package of actions – this will help ensure that the most important and effective projects are funded and implemented first
  • The EIS should describe in more detail the Watershed Protection and Enhancement component of the plan, including new Wild and Scenic rivers, Wilderness area additions, and new proposed National Recreation Areas 
  • The EIS should include more specific targets for salmon and river restoration in its stated “purpose and need.”

For instance, there should be restoration goals for various salmon species as well as specific goals for miles of rivers protected and restored.

For more information on commenting, please visit the Washington Department of Ecology’s Yakima River website.