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Sides Tussle Over Dam

by Anna King
Tri-City Herald, August 16, 2006

YAKIMA -- In 100 years, will there be fruit growing in the Yakima Valley and salmon in its rivers?

That was the question speakers ranging from irrigators, Native American leaders, farmers and politicians wrestled with Tuesday at the Yakima SunDome.

About 50 people, including Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., attended the first day of a roundtable discussion on salmon restoration, which continues today. The event is sponsored by Yakima Basin Storage Alliance, which is behind the proposed $4 billion Black Rock Reservoir project.

In his noon speech, Hastings said any solution would need the cooperation of farmers and fish advocates outside the courtroom.

Hastings strongly criticized U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, who has ordered the federal government to spill water over Columbia and Snake River dams to aid juvenile salmon survival.

"I believe he has gone too far in seizing control of the river system, especially since he is not accountable to the people and because he lacks the technical expertise of the federal agencies," Hastings said. "He has single-mindedly focused on the dams when there are many contributing factors affecting salmon populations."

Tom Carpenter, a Black Rock advocate, said the Yakima Valley needed a "big fix."

"It requires a reservoir like Black Rock," he said. "We have to meet the needs of our basin by working together."

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.

Doug Simpson, of the Roza-Sunnyside Board of Joint Control, said that in the past few years irrigation districts already have made noticeable changes to their systems to keep more water in the Yakima River for fish.

The districts have given up about 45,000 acre-feet of water a year in return for about $40 million in federal and state grants to modernize their irrigation systems. Now, many open canals are piped, farmers are using drip irrigation and sediment is settled in holding ponds before it's returned to the river, he said.

The new systems use water more efficiently and less water is lost in leaks, evaporation and operational spill, so farmers still receive the same amount of water, he explained. At first, farmers were hesitant to give up any water, but through a compromise, farmers and fish advocates have benefited.

"We've put back in the river the size of Bumping Lake," Simpson said. "That's no small amount of water." (Inflow Volume: 126,000 acre-ft according to Bureau of Reclamation)

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said he was happy about the positive work in the Yakima Valley, but told the crowd more changes are needed to save the Northwest's salmon.

Climate change, dead zones in the Pacific Ocean and the decline of orcas in the Puget Sound are troubling warning signs about the health of the environment, he said.

"Nobody wants to look at that, because we might have to change," he said.

Frank challenged the group to work faster than the government and courts to help the Pacific Northwest's rivers, Puget Sound and the ocean.

"The whales are dying, the fish are dying," he said. "If that ocean dies, we're going to die."

Anna King
Sides Tussle Over Dam
Tri-City Herald, August 16, 2006

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