Rafters hit Tieton's rough water

A boon to rafters on the Tieton River and a hazard to a part of the Yakima River, the Yakima basin's annual flip-flop is getting under way.

Operators with the federal Bureau of Reclamation have started gradually cutting back on water in the upper arm of the Yakima River and replacing it with more water in the Tieton and Naches rivers.

It's done to avoid disturbing spring chinook salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Yakima River, but still provide enough irrigation water for farmers downstream.

But what's good for fish is also good for rafters on the Tieton River. Every September, whitewater enthusiasts flock to the Tieton to take advantage of the wild rides created by that extra water.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, reclamation operators will begin sending water around sensitive spawning grounds on the upper Yakima.

Water diverted around the spawning area is dropped back into the river at a spillway in the Bristol Flats area between Ellensburg and Cle Elum.

The large volume of water shooting down the spillway creates dangerously turbulent waters as it falls back into the river. It caused the drowning death of a 6-year-old girl in 2001.

"You don't want to be around there," said Chuck Garner, river operations supervisor.

The bureau has since built ramps well above and below the spillway, allowing floaters to portage around it. Signs are also posted.

Deputies from the Kittitas County Sheriff's office sometimes patrol the area to make sure people steer clear, said Undersheriff Clayton Myers.

Also, there are always new natural hazards on the river, too, Myers said. Several new trees have fallen across the river and created entrapment risks, he said.

He advised all river users to "make sure you're familiar with the river and the hazards."