YAKIMA - A roundtable discussion was held yesterday in Yakima as an opportunity for tribal leaders, growers, natural resources managers, recreationists, environmental policy makers and directors, government agencies and others to discuss the issues that directly affect the ecological health of the Yakima River Basin, fish and wildlife, farming, community life, water rights and management and related topics.
The goal of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance's roundtable meeting was to create a greater urgency in addressing the impact of water shortages stemming from sustained droughts, and minimizing conflicts over shared water resources. The Black Rock Reservoir is one of the solutions the Alliance is promoting.
The discussion was an opportunity for all opinions and concerns to be shared in hopes of moving closer to a consensus about the reservoir.
From the beginning of the development of the Yakima River Basin, it was known by the forefathers of the valley that all the parched land in the Yakima River Basin needed to bloom was water.
In an effort to bring their dream to life they built one of the country's most ambitious water projects. It included a network of canals, tunnels, dams and six mountain reservoirs. Almost half a million acres of desert was turned into some of the most fertile and productive farmland in the country.
Along with this transformation came the disruption of the way of life for many tribes that were reliant on the once plentiful fishing and wildlife in the Yakima Basin. The main concern for tribes of the area is decreasing amount of salmon in the waters.
Sid Morrison, chairman of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance board, addressed the concerns about salmon recovery and protection in the Yakima River by saying, "We just want to borrow some water from the Columbia when it's not needed and then return it in kind, with fish."
Billy Frank of the Nisqually Tribe and chairman of the Northwestern Indian Fisheries Commission spoke about who can help and how. Frank gave an example of the devastation he has witnessed in various areas of the Pacific Northwest that may foretell the future of the Yakima Basin.
An astonishing 13 million sockeye salmon are in the Frazier River, and he was told that 40 percent of the salmon would die. New information is indicating that 80 percent of the salmon will die due to the water temperature being too warm.
"We're going to see some devastating times coming our way. There is no snow on Mt. Hood and the ice-caps are melting," said Frank.
Roy Sampsel, chairman of the board for the Institute for Tribal Government, spoke passionately about the necessity to communicate. "Change happens with bold leadership. I challenge this group because I see a lack of bold leadership," said Sampsel.
Also in attendance at the roundtable discussion was Congressman Doc Hastings, who commented on the importance of water storage, salmon recovery efforts and reforming the Endangered Species Act.
Hastings said, "Water is truly the lifeblood of our economy. It provides for the salmon and other wildlife that sustained Native Americans for generations before the arrival of the first Europeans in the Northwest."
"It also provides for the irrigation that has transformed this valley into a major supplier of high-value fruits, vegetables and other crops. Down stream water provides for electricity generation, transportation and recreation opportunities. The conflicts that can arise between these seemingly competing needs can consume all of our attention if we let them," he said.
"Flood and drought conditions in the recent years show that Mother Nature can be unpredictable as to how she delivers this precious resource. As a region, we need to focus our efforts on how to better manage water and how we can change the equation altogether with additional water storage," Hastings continued.
Hastings also went on to say that only 3 percent of the water stored behind Grand Coulee Dam is used for human purposes, cities and irrigation.
He continued by saying, "Unfortunately, we have seen water and river management in the wider Columbia Basin come under constant litigation every step of the way, even though we have made tremendous investments in the hydrosystem to better facilitate fish passage and to improve habitat, and salmon returns have been promising in recent years. "
Hastings continued, "We are all committed to seeing healthy salmon runs and meeting our obligations under the Endangered Species Act and our treaty obligations with Northwest tribes. The question is how you get from there to here."
"For more than 10 years now, all of the principals have been arguing over Columbia Basin salmon in a courtroom in Portland. This is wasting valuable resources and time that could be invested in long-term solutions that work for everyone."
"Moreover, it further erodes citizens' faith that their tax and ratepayer dollars are being spent wisely to balance the needs of salmon with other vital economic and resource needs of the Pacific Northwest. Less money should be spent on lawyers and litigation and more on preserving water resources," he concluded.