Reclamation concludes Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study

April 3, 2009
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it has concluded the Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study (Storage Study) and that none of the action alternatives evaluated met Federal criteria for an economically and environmentally sound water project. Therefore, "No Action" was selected as the preferred alternative...

BOISE, ID, Apr. 3, 2009 -- The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it has concluded the Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study (Storage Study) and that none of the action alternatives evaluated met Federal criteria for an economically and environmentally sound water project. Therefore, "No Action" was selected as the preferred alternative.

A formal Record of Decision (ROD) is not required when a NEPA study recommends no action. Reclamation notified the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) that the Storage Study has officially concluded, that a ROD will not be prepared, and no further work can be done under the Storage Study authorization.

"Reclamation appreciates the substantial funding and cooperation provided by the State of Washington for this study," said Jerry Kelso, Columbia-Cascades Area Office Manager. "We also greatly appreciate the participation and partnership of the Department of Ecology in conducting the Storage Study."

The purpose of the four-year storage study was to develop and evaluate storage alternatives that could provide additional water to improve anadromous fish habitat, enhance the reliability of irrigation water supplies during dry years, and provide water to meet future municipal water needs. The final Storage Study results are documented in the Final Planning Report/Environmental Impact Statement, December 2008.

Work on solutions to the basin's water shortage problems began in 1979 after Congress directed Reclamation to conduct a feasibility study of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP). The Congressional objectives of the YRBWEP study were to develop a plan that would provide supplemental water for presently irrigated lands, water for new lands within the Yakama Indian Reservation, water for increased instream flows for aquatic life, and a comprehensive plan for efficient management of basin water supplies.

Early in the YRBWEP study process fish passage problems were indentified as needing immediate early attention. This lead to congressional authorization in 1984 of what is commonly referred to as YRBWEP Phase 1, which primarily involved rebuilding fish ladders and constructing fish screens on river diversions.

The YRBWEP study proceeded through the 1980's but was not fully completed primarily due to issues and uncertainties associated with the adjudication of the basin surface waters that began in 1978. Consequently, Congress passed legislation in 1994 for what is generally referred to as YRBWEP Phase 2. This legislation provided for significant water conservation and acquisition activities, studies to define the long-term water needs of fish and current irrigators, improvements to the Wapato Irrigation Project, and development of an interim plan for management of basin water supplies.

Ecology began a separate evaluation in 2008 under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) of solutions to the Yakima basin's water supply problems including consideration of habitat and fish passage needs. This study is scheduled to be released in May.

"With the activities and reports underway and produced under YRBWEP Phase 2, completion of the Storage Study, and the upcoming completion of Ecology's SEPA study, there has now been three decades of work and information produced by basin stakeholders, the Department of Ecology, and Reclamation towards identifying and resolving the water resources and related habitat needs of the Yakima basin," said Kelso. "It is time for basin interests to take this information and develop consensus conclusions on a solution to the basin's water problems. Reclamation will ask Ecology to help us convene the necessary forums to move this effort forward and complete the YRBWEP plan that was started in 1979."

The Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits.

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