Breaching Bateman Island causeway being studied

A regional group will look at ways to breach the causeway to Bateman Island to improve salmon habitat with the help of a state grant program.

The grant of almost $6,000 to the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group was among $42 million in grants recently announced by the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership to restore and protect salmon habitat. The fisheries group also has a $100,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology for the causeway project.

The earthen causeway connecting the riverfront trail in Richland to Bateman Island stops the flow of water on the south side of the island, reducing the area where the Yakima River water mixes with the cooler Columbia water. The water to the west of Bateman Island tends to back up and the stagnant water is heated by the sun.

Studies have shown that a "thermal barrier" has been created at the delta, which is a particular concern for sockeye and summer and fall Chinook. It also creates a habitat that welcomes predators such as catfish and bass.

But the 73-year-old causeway also is used by hikers and the calm area it creates to the east is a popular summer hangout for boaters and anglers.

The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, a White Salmon-based nonprofit, will use the grant to identify alternatives for breaching the causeway. The project will look for alternatives that allow river flow along the south side of Bateman Island, while still allowing recreational and emergency access.

The project will identify and address local concerns, including by the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the island, and the city of Richland, which leases the island, according to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. Concerns of those who use the island for recreation and the nearby Columbia Park Marina also will be identified.

The project will consider mobilizing sediment deposited to the west of the causeway, protecting marina resources and reducing habitat for rearing non-native species. Project costs also will be weighed.

Earlier this year the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group said that if the causeway needs to be altered, possibilities might include digging culverts to let water through or replacing it with a bridge.

Elsewhere in the Mid-Columbia, Salmon Recovery Grants will be used to improve habitat on the Touchet River.

The Blue Mountain Land Trust will use about $43,000 to assess whether voluntary land preservation agreements can be made to conserve land that will be restored for salmon habitat near Dayton. The agreements could compensate landowners for limiting development on the land to ensure that restoration to provide strong salmon spawning habitat is protected.

In addition, about $89,000 would be spent by the Columbia Conservation District for a preliminary design for habitat improvement on a diversion channel at the Touchet River in Dayton.

Projects that received the grants were selected for consideration by regional watershed groups that included tribes, local governments, nonprofits and residents, according to the State Recreation and Conservation Office. Their recommendations were submitted to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

"This process of local priorities and state scientific overview has proven to be the most effective way of getting projects done on the ground and it assures we are investing the money we have very strategically," said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, in a statement.

Money for the grants comes from the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the sale of state bonds. In addition, $24.4 million is from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews