YAKIMA -- Given a boost by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's visit last month, a wide-ranging group representing basin water interests agreed this week to ask for $20.8 million as a down payment to meet future water needs.
The money, a larger amount than what a subcommittee had initially recommended, will be sought through a combination of state and federal funds. The aim is to begin tackling storage, fish passage, land protection and habitat improvement projects -- all of which carry an ultimate price tag of about $5 billion.
The group, which goes by the name of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Work Group, will seek some $6 million from the state and the remainder from the federal government for work that would be done in 2012.
Despite the state's continuing budget problems, the chance for funding is viewed favorably because Gov. Chris Gregoire has expressed her support.
Both state and federal officials have expressed support for the plan, citing the cooperation among competing interests that led to agreement on the overall terms early this year.
Salazar, in a visit to Yakima last month, encouraged the group to provide his agency with a list of projects that could be completed in the near term as a way to show progress.
The group that is working on the plan involves farmers, the Yakama Nation, local and state governments, and fishery agencies. The representatives have met for more than two years to arrive at the plan, which is headlined by expanding Bumping Lake and building the Wymer reservoir in the Yakima River Canyon.
But what some in the group saw as too much emphasis on new storage to meet irrigation and fishery needs led to the expansion of the first funding request from the initial $18.4 million.
The increased sum -- adding $1.7 million to purchase land for preservation and $700,000 to study increasing storage at Lake Cle Elum -- are a nod to sustaining support from environmental groups who see protecting forest and shrub steppe habitat as the plan's key provisions.
Steve Malloch, representing the National Wildlife Federation and an alternate on the work group, said land purchase had been given short shrift in the initial recommendation.
"I need something tangible we can use to continue that support. At this moment, it is the land purchase," he said.
Phil Rigdon, representing the Yakama Nation, agreed the project must be seen as primarily an environmental effort.
"If we are going to get approval at the national level, it will have to be more of an environmental project," he said. "Otherwise we won't get through that door."
The land acquisition component includes public purchase of about 71,000 acres, including 46,000 acres in the Teanaway drainage near Cle Elum; a checkerboard of private land in the Little Naches, Manastash and Taneum headwaters; and the 15,000-acre Eaton Ranch in the Yakima River Canyon.
Property elsewhere in the basin would be considered for purchase if none of those sales can be completed.