Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign

A vital resource for both the well-being of wildlife and the livelihoods and recreation of people of central Washington state and beyond, the Yakima River is in need of an innovative solution that ensures the sustainable use and enjoyment of the river. Beginning high in the Cascade Range and eventually joining the Columbia River, the Yakima provides important habitat for salmon, irrigation water for farmers, and picturesque recreation for people from around the Northwest.

But these competing demands create a tough political dynamic that puts a strain on the river. Ensuring the long-term health of the Yakima and the economies and ecosystems that depend on it will require finding a better balance that provides enough water for fish and farms.

Over the years the Yakima River and its tributary streams have suffered from dams, water withdrawals, and pollution, and the number of salmon and steelhead returning to spawn has dropped dramatically. Farmers growing crops in the Yakima Basin’s dry but productive lowlands are facing increasing water shortages, while the river’s forested headwaters are threatened by new encroachments from human development and the bear the scars of poor land management. The vitality of the Yakima Basin’s environment and economy is at risk.

An insightful, long-term approach is needed to restore the health and integrity of the Yakima Basin so future generations can benefit from the river’s waters and resources.   Recognizing the reality that a healthy Yakima basin economy depends on a healthy river (and vice versa) is essential to creating a solution. The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan [PDF] can be that solution.  The plan will ensure that the Yakima Basin is a place where fish and wildlife, farmers, and families thrive with sustainable supplies of clean water.

The plan aims to establish over 100,000 acres as public recreational areas that better protect forests and streams, protect over 20,000 acres of wilderness areas, designate about 200 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and protect and restore over 70,000 acres of private land currently threatened with development or poor land management. The plan will also restore and enhance salmon, steelhead, and resident fish habitat by providing fish passage to pristine habitat above existing dams, removing barriers to fish migration, restoring floodplains and natural river functions, and improving water management through water conservation, water markets, and providing new surface and groundwater storage. 

These actions will protect both the land and the river, improve water quality and quantity, dramatically increase salmon and steelhead populations (from less than 30,000 today to over 300,000 in the future), create a modern and efficient irrigation infrastructure, and drive a healthy economy that protects farms while invigorating the basin’s recreational economy. Through this careful balance, the Yakima River and its tributaries will continue to be a source of beauty, recreation, and economic sustenance for the basin’s residents and the surrounding region.

American Rivers is partnering in our work to protect and restore the Yakima Basin with The National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and The Wilderness Society.  For more information on this joint effort, please visit the Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign’s website at www.yakimaforever.org.