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As recreators get out on the Yakima River this fall, officials want them to know to be extra careful of a stretch of the river in Upper County as water is diverted to aid in salmon habitat.

The Bureau of Reclamation has begun its annual “flip-flop” operation this month in order to aid successful spawning and incubation of chinook salmon eggs and to improve winter reservoir storage in the Yakima basin.

According to a press release from the bureau, the operation involves gradually decreasing flows out of the Keechelus and Cle Elum reservoirs in the upper Yakima River basin, while at the same time gradually increasing flows from Kachess and Rimrock reservoirs. The release said the operation will affect flows in the Tieton and Naches rivers as well as the upper Yakima, Cle Elum, and Kachess rivers in the upper Yakima basin. Because of the shift of the flows from these facilities, a transition will occur, creating the “flip-flop” effect.

“Reclamation urges those recreating or working along Yakima basin rivers to exercise caution, especially in the Yakima River near Thorp,” BOR Yakima Project River Operations supervisor Chuck Garner said in the release. “Please avoid areas where spillway water flows into the river, portage around buoys, and stay out of dangerously turbulent flows.”

As part of the operation, the release said the bureau has begun diverting water down the Kittitas Reclamation District’s spillway 1146 into the Yakima River near Thorp. Buoys and warning signs are in place in the Yakima River and will remain until mid-October after the flow from the spillway has ended.

According to the release, flows below Cle Elum Reservoir have decreased from a July 28 high of 3,960 cubic feet per second to a low of about 200 to 250 CFS. Conversely, flows from Rimrock Reservoir will increase to approximately 1,700 and 2,400 CFS by mid-September, depending on irrigation demands and weather conditions. Rimrock outflows will begin decreasing in late September to between 50 and 130 CFS by the end of the irrigation season, which is Oct. 20, to maintain required downstream minimum flows.

“This annual flip-flop operation maintains relatively low, more natural flows that are important for chinook salmon spawning in the upper Yakima, Cle Elum, and Bumping rivers,” the release said. “It also allows Reclamation to reduce impacts on irrigation water supplies by allowing lower reservoir releases throughout the winter to improve storage for the coming season.”

KRD Manager Urban Eberhart said the major operations involving their chute began Sept. 7, keeping the major flows moving in the area between Easton and Bristol Flats adjacent to state Route 10. When the flows are artificially high in the Yakima River, he said it impedes the ability of the salmon to spawn in their natural habitat.

“When the chinook swim up to there to spawn, they are spawning as low as possible in the river channel,” he said. “We keep it as low as possible for spawning for the next month and half. Spawning flows are lower and incubation flows are lower, and we do that by taking as much water as possible out at Easton, putting it back into the river further down from that stretch.”

At the concrete chute at Bristol Flats, Eberhart said water is being rediverted into the river at a very high rate, which is why the buoys and markers are necessary to warn recreators of the danger.

“There are there to steer any rafters and floaters away from that part of the river,” he said. “There are also signs along the river to warn them that the spillway is up ahead. Rafters and anglers should really be careful at that location.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!


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