Water and Climate Change: Solutions on Washington’s Yakima River

Daily headlines are driving home the fact that climate change is hitting rivers and water supplies first and worst. But too often, the narrative devolves into a debate over the false choice of “fish vs farms,” highlighted in this recent NPR interview.  So where is the path forward?  How do we meet all of our water needs and ensure healthy rivers? An agreement on Washington’s Yakima River shows that when stakeholders build trust and work together, we can achieve solutions that work for communities, farms, businesses, fish, and wildlife.

As Michael Garrity of American Rivers recently told The New York Times, “The Yakima Plan shows how we move forward through the reality of climate change and ensure reliable water supplies and healthy rivers.”

At the heart of the Yakima plan is a recognition of the value of healthy, flowing rivers. And, a recognition that we need balance: If we manage our water supplies wisely, we can have healthy farms, thriving fish and wildlife, and a healthy environment and economy.

American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and The Wilderness Society recently released a short film, This River Runs Forever, showcasing the many people who came together to write a new chapter for the Yakima River. Watch the film

The Yakima River, a tributary of the Columbia River in south central and eastern Washington, supports many aspects of the Pacific Northwest’s high quality of life. The river is home to salmon runs that sustain tribes and provides Washington’s only blue ribbon trout fishing opportunities for residents and visitors. The river’s water irrigates crops including apples, peaches, cherries, and an increasing quantity of wine grapes.  The Yakima is also essential to the craft beer industry and to bigger breweries, providing roughly 75 percent of the nation’s – and one-third of the world’s – hops. The Yakima is also a popular destination for families looking for hiking, boating, skiing, and other outdoor activities.

The Yakima Plan, hammered out by a diverse coalition of conservationists, farmers, tribes and state and federal governments, is a major step toward ending decades of bitter feuding over water in the Yakima Basin. The plan will restore several runs of salmon and steelhead, including what could easily become the largest sockeye salmon run in the lower 48 states and improve water security for farms and communities, all while protecting more than 200,000 acres of public lands and about 200 miles of pristine streams prized for recreation and wildlife habitat.

With climate change and drought presenting water challenges across the West, the Yakima should provide some valuable lessons and inspiration.

Learn more at www.yakimariver.org

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Amy Kober is the senior communications director for American Rivers, a national non-profit river conservation organization. She lives in Portland, OR.