For more than a year the Bureau of Reclamation has been working on a study that will determine the feasibility of the proposed Black Rock reservoir project.
Wednesday morning, Kim I. McCartney, Bureau of Reclamation storage study manager for the upper Columbia area office, talked to members of the Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club about the ongoing feasibility study.
According to McCartney, the Black Rock reservoir project is something the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance has been promoting since about 2001. He said the reservoir has become the main focus when it comes to water storage in the Yakima River Basin. The proposed site for the reservoir is about half a mile west of the intersection of Highways 24 and 241, to the north of Sunnyside.
Although the project has been promoted since 2001, it wasn't until 2003 that the feasibility study was authorized by Congress.
"It will require several years to complete the work," McCartney said of the study.
He said currently the group studying the project and other water storage alternatives for the Yakima River Basin is looking at ways to keep the irrigation in the Valley running evenly during drought periods. McCartney explained that the group is hoping that the reservoir will be able to provide 70 percent of irrigation water for the local irrigation districts throughout the year. This would mean that regardless of weather conditions at least 70 percent of irrigation water would be available to the districts.
McCartney said at this point they are planning on filling the reservoir with water from the Columbia River. This would mean there would be less water coming out of the Yakima River for irrigation purposes and therefore more water for fish habitats.
McCartney said one of the goals of the Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study is to bring the flows of the Yakima River back to where they were in the early 1900s. This would mean that water levels in the river would be at their highest point in the spring. He explained that because of heavy irrigation use, the river now sees its water levels at their highest point in the summer.
McCartney told Rotarians that part of the study has involved the creation of computer models that takes information about the Yakima River's bed and flow path and determines what changes would come to the river if more water was running through its channels.
"We're collecting a lot of data on the river," McCartney said.
The study is also doing what it can to create a more accurate cost estimate for the Black Rock reservoir project. McCartney said original estimates were right around $1.8 billion, but over the past year work has been done to flesh out that figure.
McCartney said part of the feasibility study is the analysis of the benefits the creation of a reservoir would be for the Yakima River Basin. He said ultimately he is hoping to see a cost - benefit ratio of one to one. This would mean that every dollar spent on the project would bring at least one dollar in benefits.
According to McCartney, the feasibility study is set to be completed in 2008, at which point the results of the study will be taken to Congress, where they will decide if the project gets funded.
"Then it's out of our hands," McCartney said.