Bateman Island might become an actual island.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering a plan to breach the Bateman Island causeway to improve salmon and steelhead habitat at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers in the Tri-Cities.
The causeway is a short distance west of the intersection of Columbia Center Boulevard and Columbia Park Trail in Richland. It is heavily used by walkers, hikers, bird watchers and others who visit the 160-acre natural area.
The state will begin a formal environmental review next year. In the interim, the idea is raising local eyebrows because of its potential to reduce access to the island; increase river currents through the Columbia Park West Marina, gas dock and boat launch; and for its impact on non-native fish and bird species inhabiting the area.
The city of Richland and Visit Tri-Cities are weighing in now to ask the state to preserve access and to protect the marina from up to 1.9 knots of new river current.
“We want to be early in the process and identify the impacts at a point where they can discuss and fund mitigation,” said Joe Schiessl, Richland’s parks and public facilities director.
Richland leases Bateman Island from the Army Corps of Engineers and operates it as an outdoor recreation destination.
This week, the Visit Tri-Cities board lent its voice. It endorsed the goal of improving habitat for salmon. But it wants the state to bridge the breach, and to shield the privately owned marina and the public boat launch.
In a June 22 letter to Mike Livingston, regional director for Fish and Wildlife, Visit Tri-Cities said the marina was not designed, built, permitted or insured to withstand the stronger current.
“They need to include mitigation,” Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the visitor bureau, told the Herald.
They need to include mitigation.
Kris Watkins, president and CEO, Visit Tri-Cities
The causeway has long been blamed for contributing to elevated water temperatures at the mouth of the Yakima River, which hits the Columbia River at Bateman Island’s west end. It acts like a dam, blocking the channel running between the island and the Columbia. The result is warm, stagnant water that supports mosquitoes and predator species that feed on juvenile salmon trying to reach the Pacific Ocean.
The proposal to breach the causeway is part of a larger effort to improve conditions for cold water species along the Yakima’s entire 200-plus miles.
The Yakama Nation, the nonprofit Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group and the Benton Conservation District are part of the effort.
Livingston said a predator-filled warm zone at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers has long been identified as a problem area for migrating fish.
“This is one identified pinch point,” he said.
This is one identified pinch point.
Mike Livingston, regional director, Washington Fish and Wildlife
Research by the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group says breaching the causeway will reduce spring temperatures by about 2 degrees Celsius, enough to slow the metabolism of predator fish and allow more juvenile salmon to escape to the ocean. Grants from the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Washington Integrated Plan paid for its research.
In the summer, its research suggests, temperatures could be reduced by from 6 percent to 8 percent on the warmest days, extending the window during which adult salmon migrate into the Yakima.
The Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society is a major user of the island. It offers monthly bird tours that routinely attract dozens of visitors.
Dana Ward, conservation director, said breaching the dam might solve one problem but create another.
The causeway has created its own ecosystem and attracted species that deserve attention. For instance, wading birds feed on the mud flats behind the causeway. And the warm water fish that live in the zone are popular with bass fishermen.
Breaching the causeway could jeopardize that.
“We want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.