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The Daily Record’s recent series on the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (July 7-11) fails to explore the plan’s flaws. 

The first flaw is membership. In addition to federal and state agencies and the Yakama Nation, the “advisory” workgroup included three counties, five irrigation districts, and one city (Yakima). Ellensburg and Cle Elum were not included. One conservation organization was a member.

The Forest Service, which manages land where a new Bumping Lake dam and new National Recreation Areas (NRAs) are proposed, did not join until 2012.

The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Ecology handpicked the members, funded the process, and became workgroup voting members and co-chairs. They stacked the deck and controlled the stack of chips.

Flaw with work group

Another flaw is the work group implementation subcommittee formed in April 2011. The Yakima Basin Storage Alliance (YBSA), a work group member, and other members of the public were barred from subcommittee meetings. This subcommittee advocated integrated plan federal and state legislative appropriations even before a draft programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DPEIS) was released for public comment on Nov. 16, 2011. The work group also prepared a $20 million dollar “Early Action Implementation Request” before release of the DPEIS.

The DPEIS purpose is to provide decision makers with information on adverse environmental effects and alternatives. The Bureau and Ecology failed to comply. More flaws. The DPEIS included the proposed integrated plan and a no-action alternative, but no other alternatives.

What’s not in plan

The DPEIS did not include a YBSA Columbia River pump storage alternative. After the Jan. 3, 2012, close of DPEIS comments, the Bureau and Ecology added a new proposal to the final PEIS for NRAs within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, 29 local, state and national organizations objected. As adopted by the work group, these NRAs would include more than 40,000 acres of dedicated off-road vehicle (ORV) use. The workgroup failed to consult the Cle Elum Ranger District or dozens of conservation groups about NRA designation problems. The public was denied a comment opportunity.

The integrated plan says these NRA designations will attract more ORV use, i.e., increase ORV impacts, which is harmful to fish, wildlife, soil, and conflicts with other human users of our public lands.

 The Bureau and Ecology denied a request from 11 local, state, and national organizations for a DPEIS comment extension.

Although the Bureau and Ecology received more than 1,500 comments on the DPEIS from citizens around the country objecting to the Yakima integrated plan, the final PEIS was released on March 2, 2012, ignoring many comments and objections.

On March 30, 2012, 15 local, state and national organizations wrote to the Bureau and Ecology with final PEIS objections, requesting a written response that has yet to be received.

 In addition to integrated plan process flaws, in 2008 the bureau studied the proposed Wymer Dam calculating its benefit/cost ratio at 0.31. The Bureau did not study a new Bumping Lake dam. Congress has twice before (1979 and 1984) refused to pass such legislation. Both proposed dams would be junior irrigation district insurance dams during an occasional drought year.

Voluntary elements

More than 200,000 acre-feet of water conservation has yet to be implemented. More than 110,000 acre-feet of water may be available for inter-district trades and up to 230,000 acre-feet for intra-district trades. While water conservation, water marketing, and watershed conservation are good features, they remain voluntary in the integrated plan.

Fishery restoration

 The Yakama Nation is right to seek fishery restoration in the Yakima Basin. But fish passage at existing dams is not dependent on new irrigation dams. The integrated plan does not address low flows in the lower Yakima River, where upstream anadromous fish have to pass. Nor does it adequately address the Yakama Nation’s Wapato Irrigation Project, one of the largest, most water wasteful irrigation districts in the country. 

These flaws and the $4 billiion to $6 billion price tag are evidence that this plan will be viewed with skepticism in Olympia, and Washington D.C., where they are looking at major budget deficits, not opportunities to earmark billions of dollars.

 Yakima River Basin improvements can take place with a steady eye on water conservation, water banking, streamside restoration, aquifer water storage and looking at the Columbia River Basin as a system. But not with an integrated plan that is fatally flawed.

Charlie de la Chappelle, is the vice-chair of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance in Yakima. Marlin Rechterman is the vice president of the Kittitas Audubon Chapter.

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