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Monday, December 7, 2015

Kachess Lake water grab: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation needs to slow down, follow law

News release

For immediate release, December 7, 2015


Kachess Lake water grab:  U.S. Bureau of Reclamation needs to slow down, follow law


Conservationists, Homeowners ask federal dam agency to extend public comment period



Today multiple conservation and homeowner groups announced that they are requesting the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation extend the period for public comment on impact and alternatives scoping for a proposed “emergency” project that would partially drain Kachess Lake.  The Bureau’s proposal is intended to benefit “junior” irrigators in the Yakima Basin.  (click to view request letter)


“In the rush to pump Kachess Lake, we are asking federal officials to slow down, play by the rules, and give the public time to understand the impacts on Kachess Lake and costs to irrigators and taxpayers,” said Grant Learned Jr of Friends of Lake Kachess.


The Lake Kachess campground and boat launch are perhaps the busiest in the entire state, just an hour from Seattle.  Draining Lake Kachess would harm bull-trout populations while ruining the National Forest campground and lake’s recreational values. 


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a press release dated November 24, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, announcing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) scoping “workshops” beginning Monday, December 7 in Ellensburg (4-7PM) with a public comment period of less than 30 days (comment deadline: December 18). Conservationists are asking that the Bureau post its scoping notice in the Federal Register and then extend the public comment period to 60 days.  


The Bureau’s proposal is intended to provide water to one of the “junior” irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin, Roza Irrigation District.  Consistent with “First in time, first in right” in Western Water Law, during water scarce years like 2015 junior water right holders face being regulated, and their water curtailed from the federal irrigation project.  Senior water-right holders receive 100 percent of their water.  Conservationists have long encouraged that the solution to water scarcity in the Yakima Basin is to plant appropriate crops, use water markets and water banks to better share water between all irrigators, and to aggressively pursue water conservation to end water waste and inefficiencies.


“We cannot and should not sacrifice Kachess Lake to make up for wasteful, inefficient irrigation in the Yakima Basin,” said Grant Learned Jr, a leader with Friends of Lake Kachess.  


Although reservoirs are filling with recent rain and snowstorms, Washington State Dept of Ecology has continued its “drought emergency,” thereby trying to allow state and federal agencies to move forward with the Kachess Lake pumping project, skirting environmental laws.   The Department of Ecology has not announced any review of this project under the State Environmental Policy Act.  Diesel generators are being considered to run pumps, raising concerns about air, water, and noise pollution for this mountain lake.

The Kachess Lake pumping  proposal being expedited by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is not part of the $5 billion 2012 Yakima “Integrated” Water Plan.   Led by Senator Maria Cantwell, Congress is currently considering legislation based on the Yakima Plan.   Six years in the making at a cost of tens of millions of tax dollars, the Yakima Plan does not include the Roza District’s proposed “Kachess Emergency Temporary Floating Pumping Plant (KETFPP) Project.”  The Bureau’s November 24 news release states that project name, including the word “Temporary,” but given the project’s reported cost of $58 million, the funders will presumably want to use the pump as much as they can, and not just on a “temporary” basis.


“This is crazy to try an ‘end run’ around the supposedly ‘integrated’ Yakima Plan and Workgroup processes that the Bureau, Roza, and others set up – not even mentioning them in the Bureau’s news release,” said Karl Forsgaard of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society.


“The Kachess Lake water grab underscores that water flows uphill to money and power in the Yakima Basin,” said Jay Schwartz of Friends of Lake Kachess.  “Kachess Lake belongs to the public.  We are asking the Bureau of Reclamation to follow the law, and open the process to the public.”



  • Request letter from Conservationists and Homeowners to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Dec. 7, 2015