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Pacific Northwest Region
Boise, Idaho
Media Contact:
John Redding
(208) 378-5212

Released On: December 02, 2005

The Bureau Of Reclamation Recognizes 100 Years Of Service To The Yakima Valley
The Yakima Project has been the driving force in the economic status of the valley for almost a century. The project irrigates crops, generates power, reduces flood damage and supports area recreation. In 1903, the Secretary of the Interior was petitioned to help create the projects that are still seen today. By the time the U.S. Secretary of the Interior signed the authorization of the Tieton and Sunnyside Divisions in December 12, 1905, the, U.S. Reclamation Service, known as the Bureau of Reclamation, was actively involved in the construction and planning of irrigation delivery systems in the Yakima Valley.

Between 1905 and 1958, Reclamation built several diversion dams and canals. The project includes six reservoirs that catch and hold over a million acre feet of spring runoff in the Cascade Mountains. In a normal water year, these features provide a reliable water source for Yakima Valley farmers for the entire growing season.

The Yakima Valley has a mild climate and a rich soil base, but less than 7 inches of annual rainfall, creating the need for a reliable source of water. As early as 1860, settlers were attracted to the variety of wild game and rich grassland for cattle. They quickly recognized the value of water in the many rivers and streams that tumbled from the slopes of the Cascades and found ways to divert water through a series of ditches.

In 1864, the Yakima Valley's first irrigation ditch delivered creek water to a vegetable garden above a Catholic mission. The transformation converted what had been sagebrush-covered land only a few generations ago into one of the richest agricultural areas in the nation. Today, the Yakima Valley is known worldwide for its delicious, award winning apples, trellises of hops, fields of cool mint, and a variety of other agricultural products.

1860 - First water delivered to valley

Early settlers to the Yakima Valley were fortunate to have rich soils, but infrequent rainfall kept the land arid. They quickly recognized the value of water in the many rivers and streams that tumbled from the slopes of the Cascades.

1864 - The valley's first irrigation ditch

The first attempts to channel irrigation water were to a vegetable garden above a Catholic mission. The early production of Yakima farm fields proved beneficial, yet challenging due to a lack of ability to store spring runoff. Within about 39 years, Reclamation would soon be on the scene constructing diversion dams.

Reclamation dams and diversions were built

A petition dated January 28, 1903, from citizens of Yakima County to the Secretary of the Interior requested federal involvement in irrigation development. Investigations were initiated which led to the beginning of the construction of features of the Yakima Project by the former Reclamation Service.

The Yakima Project was authorized and the Sunnyside and Tieton Units were approved for construction in 1905. Congressional authorization followed for the Kittitas and Wapato Divisions (1910), Roza Division (1935), and the Kennewick Division in 1948. Early in 1906, investigation of storage sites was initiated.

Development progressed with construction as follows:

1904 - Prosser Diversion Dam - Yakima River near Prosser, Washington 1907 - Sunnyside Diversion Dam - Yakima River near Parker, Washington 1908 - Tieton Diversion Dam - Tieton River, 16 miles southwest of Naches, Washington 1910 - Bumping Dam - Bumping River, 29 miles northwest of Naches, Washington 1912 - Kachess Dam - Kachess River, 2 miles northwest of Easton, Washington 1914 - Clear Creek Dam - Tieton River, 48 miles west of Yakima, Washington 1917  Keechelus Dam - Yakima River, 10 miles northwest of Easton, Washington 1925 - Tieton Dam - Tieton River, 40 miles northwest of Yakima, Washington 1933  Cle Elum Dam  Cle Elum River, 8 miles northwest of Cle Elum, Washington 1939 - Roza Diversion Dam - Yakima River, 10 miles north of Yakima, Washington

Fast-forward to the present day, and the need for reliable sources of water are ever present. Federal, state, and local natural resource agencies have discovered that managing water efficiently can only be accomplished through open communications and planning.

As the population grows in the Yakima Valley and former farmland is converted to commercial and residential use, the need to adhere to higher standards of responsibility come into play.

A century ago, the concerns centered on finding reliable methods of storing and delivering water for irrigation, but today many competing interests are focused on this single resource.

While Reclamation still has a close working relationship with the irrigation community, the agency also pays close attention to Tribes interests, environmental laws, water quality experts, and state regulations.

Many Interests & Many Needs

The powerplants at Chandler and Roza use project water to generate electricity, of which, 1,095 million kilowatt hours is available each year to supply almost 8,000 typical homes.

The Bonneville Power Administration is a key player in the valley. BPA's sale of surplus power produced at Reclamation facilities helps to repay the federal treasure for cost of building the project.

Over the years, water users have organized into several irrigation districts which also help pay these costs. Ultimately, water users and revenues from power generation will help repay 97 percent of the total construction costs.

In 1979, federal legislation approved the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project. Fish passage and protective facilities were constructed at the major Yakima Project diversions in the late 1980s to early 1990s as Phase 1 of YRBWEP.

Under Phase 2 of the YRBWEP, authorized in 1994, Reclamation is authorized to expend Federal funds with willing cost-share partners to protect and enhance fish and wildlife and to improve the reliability of the water supply for irrigation through efficiency improvements and water conservation.

Each year almost 2 million recreation enthusiasts converge on the project's reservoirs, nestled jewel-like into the rugged Cascade terrain, for camping, hiking, swimming, boating rafting and fishing. The water has also created habitat for resident and migratory birds such as ducks, geese, cranes, eagles and osprey.

Reclamation's first 100 years of service to the Yakima Valley has involved finding innovative and creative ways to meet its mission to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at www.usbr.gov.