Editorial views from across the state
There's a lot of debate these days over the pros and cons of global warming, but one thing is for sure: If it happens — and the evidence...
Time to address water needs is now, not later
There's a lot of debate these days over the pros and cons of global warming, but one thing is for sure: If it happens — and the evidence points that way — the need for additional water-storage facilities in Central Washington will become even more critical.
The Associated Press recently compiled, and this newspaper published, a revealing series of stories — "Warming Washington" — that looked to the possibilities of climate change for the state in general, and Eastern Washington in particular. One possible, and chilling, long-range scenario is that there eventually will be more water on the west side of the Cascades; much less on the east side.
That alone is cause for concern in the Yakima River Basin, where water from five storage reservoirs is the lifeline for an agriculture-based economy. An important part of that storage network is the mountain winter snowpack — often referred to as the "sixth reservoir" — that melts on a sustained basis in the spring to help fill the reservoirs and prepare the basin for the irrigation season.
It's no secret that water-storage capacity has been stretched to the max for years. Since a bad drought in 1977 first spurred serious interest and action in expanding water-storage capabilities, Yakima Basin irrigators have been forced to ration water 11 times. That's a year-to-year game of water roulette we just can't risk anymore, especially if the frequency of the drought years increases.
There's some talk of alternate crops that use less water as a partial solution, with the area's fast-growing wine-grape industry a logical choice. Certainly any such options that stretch water supplies should be explored, even though Central Washington is already a highly diversified agriculture area and such options would seem to indicate fewer types of crops.
Beyond that, more storage, with ample provision for storing water in wet years for later use in dry times, must be part of the overall strategy for dealing with climate change. Without water there will be no crops, and without crops the basic economy of Central Washington collapses.
As we've noted many times before, the Yakima Basin still makes do with five ancient, undersized reservoirs. Bumping Lake came online in 1910, Kachess in 1912, Keechelus in 1917, Rimrock in 1925 and Cle Elum in 1933 — the year Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first term as president of the United States.
Conservation and efficient water-delivery systems are critical components for stretching water supplies now and in the future. But conservation only stretches existing supplies; it does not put a drop of new water in storage, and storage capacity hasn't increased since the New Deal was new.
Two major area proposals are now in the planning stages.
• The 1.3 million-acre-foot Black Rock reservoir would draw water from behind the Priest Rapids Dam during peak flows on the Columbia River to supply Lower Valley irrigators and free up Yakima River water to improve habitat for migrating fish. Projected cost: $4 billion-plus.
• The state Department of Ecology is looking at other potential sites and has issued a report that lists a reservoir at Crab Creek, about four miles south of Wanapum Dam, as another possibility. It could hold up to 2.65 million acre-feet of water at an estimated cost of up to $3 billion. Lesser priorities in the state study are Sand Hollow, east of the Columbia River, nearly four miles north of Wanapum Dam, and Hawk Creek, south of the river about 40 miles upstream of Grand Coulee Dam in Lincoln County.
We'll let the experts sort out the pros and cons of either, since it's not realistic to think for a minute that both Black Rock and Crab Creek could be built.
That means one or the other. And that being the case, either must ensure the Yakima Basin's rightful place at the head of the water line.
The issue no longer is if a new reservoir should be built, but when and where. Droughts are all too common and may get worse and more frequent with climate changes.
It's a looming crisis of such real potential that we can't just wait to appreciate its magnitude later. By then it will be too late and the last person leaving the Yakima Valley can turn out the lights and wish we had heeded all the warning signs and taken definitive action.
— The Yakima Herald-Republic, Sept. 11
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.