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Four new sites identified as possible water storage reservoirs

The Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have narrowed to four a list of potential Columbia River storage sites that could help serve the future water needs of the Columbia River Basin.

But, according to state officials, that doesn't mean one of those will necessarily replace the Black Rock Reservoir proposed for the Yakima River Basin.

Joye Redfield-Wilder, public information manager for the Department of Ecology, said the four sites are not intended to replace the Black Rock Reservoir proposal which would provide water storage for the Yakima River Basin.

She said both the Yakima River and Columbia river basins have received Congressional funds to research the possibility of a water storage facility.

"Black Rock is on a separate track," Redfield-Wilder said.

She noted though, that one of the Columbia River sites could one day compete with Black Rock for federal dollars when it comes time for actual construction.

"They could be competing for federal monies," Redfield-Wilder said. "It's not one over the other at this point, but there may be a point in the future when there could become a funding issue."

Redfield-Wilder added, "The director of Ecology has admitted that if we do go to Congress to request a large storage study the best proposal will be selected."

Sites identified for further analysis in the Columbia River basin include Hawk Creek in Lincoln County, Foster Creek in Douglas County, and Sand Hollow and Crab Creek, both in Grant County.

"The Legislature has directed us to aggressively seek out storage opportunities on the Columbia River that will support our cities, industries, farmers and fish. We now have four strong candidates, in pursuit of that mandate," said Ecology Director Jay Manning.

"Given the last few years of drought and predictions of climate uncertainty, it only makes sense to store more water when flows are high so it is available when competition for water is the greatest - when flows are low," he added.

In February, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation that earmarked up to $200 million to develop water supplies on the Columbia River for environmental and economic purposes. The legislation directs the state to pursue storage alternatives, promote water conservation projects and allow for creative regional water management plans.

Each of the potential storage sites has a predicted reservoir capacity of at least one million acre-feet, which is in line with future water needs in the Columbia Basin. Black Rock is expected to have a storage capacity of 1.8 million acre-feet of water.

Perhaps of greater concern for proponents of Black Rock was the Bureau of Reclamation's announcement in June that an alternate Yakima River basin site was selected for research.

In addition to Black Rock, the bureau noted that Wymer Dam and Reservoir was sufficiently viable to merit further study.

The Wymer alternative will be studied in more detail along with the Black Rock Reservoir alternative, which Reclamation previously determined appeared to be technically viable.

"Reclamation has concluded from its appraisal-level assessment that the Wymer dam and reservoir alternative appears to be technically viable and potentially capable of meeting the goals of the storage study," said Jerry Kelso, Upper Columbia Area Office Manager. "Further, more detailed analysis will determine whether either alternative Wymer or Black Rock is sufficiently viable and economically justified for intensive, feasibility-level study."

Like the Black Rock appraisal assessment, released in February 2005, this assessment is limited to certain engineering and technical aspects of the potential projects and is based on preliminary, appraisal-level information only.

Economic, financial, environmental, cultural and social evaluations have not yet been conducted on any alternative; these issues will begin to be explored in the coming months.

In 2003, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation, to conduct the Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study. Reclamation and the State of Washington are sharing the costs of the storage study.

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