Dried crops, dwindling fish runs, brown lawns. This plan helps solve our water woes

Winners and losers.

That’s usually the result when conflicting interests collide and government forces are called on to resolve disputes.

But what if, amazingly, opposing sides decide to cooperate and figure out a solution without going to court?

That’s the story behind the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, a massive 30-year proposal that began decades ago. Its success so far is worth noting, especially now that Phase III of the plan finally has been approved at the federal level.

Water is a limited resource, and this comprehensive strategy addresses ways to manage its use in the Yakima basin. That means meeting the needs of farmers, irrigators, conservationists, residential water users, tribal leaders, governmental entities and other stakeholders.

It was a major undertaking, but well worth the effort. Now the region has a path that lays out how to improve water storage, as well as restore fish runs and habitat.

And last month it received a $75 million funding boost needed to move forward.

Federal money for the plan was tucked into the comprehensive lands package signed in February by President Donald Trump.

That means more water storage at Lake Kachess – up to 200,000 acre-feet, which will be crucial to farmers in drought years. In addition, it also means old and broken pumps in the Wapato Irrigation Project can be replaced, which will increase the water supply for the Yakama Reservation.

The federal allocation also will help provide fish passage at Cle Elum Dam, which should restore steelhead and salmon populations.

Promoters say that when completed, the facility at the Cle Elum Dam will make possible the return of the largest sockeye salmon run in the lower 48 states, and that will create new fishing opportunities.

There also are many other components to the plan, including groundwater analysis, improving the bull trout populations in the Kachess and Keechelus watersheds, increasing protected forests and improving water conservation.

The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board met recently with several representatives involved in the plan, and it was apparent their collaboration has helped them form good relationships with each other.

Those who met with us included Brady Kent, of the Yakima Nation; Steve Malloch, of American Rivers; Jason McShane, of the Kennewick Irrigation District; Scott Revell, of the Roza Irrigation District; Jeff Tayer, of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Tom Tebb, the state Department of Ecology.

They agree their cooperative effort is being praised by federal lawmakers and is viewed as a national example of how to manage complex water issues.

The snowpack in the Upper Yakima Basin, which many Tri-Citians rely on for irrigation water, fell to 75 percent of average at the first of the month because of an unusually dry March in the mountains, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency and warned farmers to make plans for possible reduced irrigation water.

Snow and rain falling in the right places at the right times and a slow snow melt could still turn the water forecast around.

But if this does turn out to be one of the years when water supply is low, it’s good to know work is being done to help manage how we share it.

It’s sure better than fighting while crops die and lawns go brown.