Piping project will save water, support fish and wetlands

YAKIMA, WA, June 14, 2009 -- At Barker Ranch near West Richland, a major conservation project funded by the Washington Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River will keep more than 6,400 acre-feet of water in the Yakima River...

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YAKIMA, WA, June 14, 2009 -- A groundbreaking ceremony held at Barker Ranch near West Richland today launched a major conservation project funded by the Washington Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River that will keep more than 6,400 acre-feet of water in the Yakima River.

Water delivery will be made more efficient by converting open ditches to a closed pipe system. The increased efficiency will allow Barker Ranch in Benton County to divert less water from the Yakima, adding an additional 6,436 acre/feet (ac-ft) of water to stream flows when fish need it the most.
Last year, Barker Ranch was awarded a $5.6 million grant to replace three miles of an open-earth irrigation canal with a closed pipe system, reducing water losses due to leaks and evaporation.

The conversion will bolster streamflows by decreasing the Ranch's diversion by 6,436 acre-feet per year at a point above the Yakima River's confluence with the Columbia River.

"The Barker Ranch project represents the kind of conservation we need in the Greater Columbia Basin to best make use of a finite resource," explained Tom Tebb, Ecology's regional director for Central Washington. "This project puts a large amount of water back into a critical reach of the Yakima River in perpetuity and is an example of how we can retool our existing systems to better manage water resources in the years to come."

Nearly 175 different species of birds have been recorded on Barker Ranch by Audubon Society members the last few years. The ranch has a varying array of habitat types. The property contains several miles of contiguous wetland and riparian habitat, as well as associated tall upland grass and shrub-steppe conditions that are needed by many wildlife species, especially nesting birds. The ranch is under a permanent Wetland Restoration Program easement administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

"Barker Ranch is happy to be working with Ecology and the Office of Columbia River on this project," said Michael Crowder, general manager of Barker Ranch and an adjunct professor at Washington State University-Tri-Cities. "This work will significantly contribute to our mission of wetland restoration and wildlife management on the ranch, as well as contribute to the future water needs of the Yakima River."

Crowder noted that wetlands contribute to local groundwater supplies and aquifer recharge, they filter nutrients and sediments out of the water, they serve as areas for flood-water retention, and they fulfill a habitat need for great number of wildlife species.

Leigh Nelson, state irrigation engineer for the NRCS, said: "The Barker Ranch is a very unique wetland system for Eastern Washington. This project allows more water to stay in the rivers to support fisheries and aquatic habitats."

Construction on the three-mile long 63-inch diameter pipe will begin this summer and should be functioning by the fall.

>> More information on 2008 Funding for Columbia River Projects

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