YAKIMA -- For what is likely the first time ever in Washington, a coalition of conservation groups has agreed to support a broad plan that calls for new water storage in the Yakima Valley.
The endorsement by nine environmental groups is contingent on preserving and restoring about 71,000 acres in the basin watershed for habitat, water quality and other environmental benefits.
Privately owned land that could be acquired to provide environmental benefits includes the headwaters of the Little Naches River, Taneum and Manastash creeks, the Teanaway River drainage and the Yakima River Canyon.
The proposal also calls for additional wilderness designations around Bumping Lake, among other locations.
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Support from the environmental community is vital to winning state and federal funds to put the estimated $5 billion integrated water plan into effect over the next 20 years, addressing one of the biggest perennial problems facing farmers: the threat of drought.
Michael Garrity, representing American Rivers, told other water stakeholders this week that his colleagues in the conservation community favor moving toward an environmental impact statement, the next step in what will be a long process to make the plan a reality.
"We feel it would be the wrong thing not to be where we are," Garrity told representatives of local, state and federal government agencies, irrigators, the Yakima Nation and fish agencies that have worked on the plan since June 2009.
The goal is to improve water supplies for irrigation, bolster basin fish runs and provide water for municipal and industrial growth.
Environmental review of the plan's elements will be on a fast track.
Derek Sandison, representing the state Department of Ecology which, with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, brought the various stakeholders together, said a draft impact statement is possible this fall.
The plan features new storage, including expanding Bumping Lake to 190,000 acre-feet and building a new 160,000 acre-foot reservoir at Wymer in the river canyon; fish passage at basin dams; water conservation; watershed protections; water banking; and some operational changes in the basin's water-delivery system.
The conservation groups signing a letter of support are: the Cascade Land Conservancy, Conservation Northwest, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, The Trust for Public Land, Washington Environmental Council, and the Wilderness Society.
One group, the Sierra Club, opposes added storage.
Properties that are candidates for preservation and restoration are almost entirely in Kittitas County.