Black Rock Revenue
by Anna King
YAKIMA -- Black Rock reservoir supporters used a homemade scale and wooden blocks to illustrate their point that planned developments, tourism and power generation would offset the proposed reservoir's $4.2 billion price tag.
Yakima Basin Storage Alliance officials released Monday the results of a $84,000 study paid for by Benton and Yakima counties and the Port of Sunnyside at a meeting in Yakima.
Sid Morrison, chairman of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance, told about 100 people that Black Rock could generate about $6.68 billion in revenue from well-planned communities and energy sales.
The alliance also paid $5,000 so Energy Northwest officials could study the possible energy savings and power generation possibilities that could make pumping water from the Columbia River about six miles uphill to Black Rock more efficient.
Black Rock would be the largest dam built in the West since Grand Coulee. It would divert Columbia River water into a massive lake east of Yakima during high river flows so water would be available to farmers and more water could be left in the Yakima River to protect endangered fish.
Alliance officials have long argued that the state and federal government have only examined all the potential costs and not the many benefits of the proposed reservoir. Government studies of Black Rock have totaled about $11 million so far.
At the Yakima meeting, detailed maps featured boat launches, parks, condos, swimming beaches and housing developments.
John Nelson, principal of Mitchell and Nelson of Portland, said Black Rock could generate $1.9 billion in residential and resort development and $1.28 billion in travel and recreation over the next 20 years if the community was built under a master plan and if the reservoir stayed nearly full all year.
"There is no question that a reservoir in this area of the dry, sunny part of Washington would be in demand," he said.
Larry Felton of Energy Northwest said power costs could be reduced by pumping Columbia River water to the reservoir at night when there is low demand and power is cheaper.
He also said Black Rock could be used as a sort of storage battery for wind power operations by pumping water into the reservoir when there was too much wind power for the market to handle and releasing the water for power generation when there was a high demand for power.
Felton said the power generation plan also would require that the reservoir be nearly full most of the year.
That's a major departure from the idea that Black Rock would be drawn down hundreds of feet to supply thirsty farms with irrigation water in drought years.
Some in attendance at the meeting said Black Rock would offer Yakima and the Tri-Cities a bright future with increased tourism.
"It could turn into a large resort," said Fred Mercy, a Yakima businessman. "It's still an uphill battle but at least it's going in the right direction."
Others said they were unconvinced by the presentation touting Black Rock's future of posh communities, recreation lodges and power savings.
"If we have a year that is dry, the reservoir would go down 200 to 500 feet," said Ken Hammond of Ellensburg. "You have another dry year and your waterfront property isn't going to be worth a whole lot."
Hammond, a retired professor of geography and water resource management, said Black Rock's $4.2 billion price tag is too expensive and would benefit very few people. He said adding storage to existing reservoirs or conserving water would be a more prudent approach.
"No one wants to talk about the cost per acre foot of water (from Black Rock)," he said. "There isn't anything you could grow legally that would pay for that water."
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