Washington Water Trust

Working to restore our state's rivers and streams.

Taneum Creek

WHEREA tributary of the Yakima River that runs through Kittitas County
WHATWWT helped diverse stakeholders negotiate a cooperative agreement to increase winter instream flows
WHOWWT in partnership with the Taneum Canal Company, Washington Department of Ecology, Yakama Nation and Bonneville Power Administration
WHYTo improve habitat for fish and irrigation systems for shareholders of Taneum Canal Company
WHENOngoing since September 2005
With innovative thinking and a cooperative partnership, there's no need to choose between water for farming and water for fish.

Taneum Creek, in Kittitas County, is living proof that both can thrive. In the face of competing interests and potential water conflicts along the creek, Washington Water Trust helped a voluntary partnership with diverse interests negotiate a solution that sustains agriculture production while creating a healthier ecosystem for many species of fish. The partnership serves as a successful model for many more solutions to come.

Today, Taneum Creek is on the Clean Water Act 303(d) list because low stream flows have caused high temperatures and water quality issues. Low stream flows in the lower portion of the creek have limited winter and fall migration, spawning and incubation, affecting both anadromous and resident fish. Yet surveys conducted in the 1990s showed that the creek’s population densities were the highest of the 10 upper Yakima tributaries, with the greatest potential to increase the populations of species once so abundant in these waters.

A diverse group of partners joined with WWT to increase winter instream flows by 28.8 cubic feet per second over 21 miles of stream while helping to improve irrigation systems for the shareholders of Taneum Canal Company (TCC), a group of 32 shareholders who use the ditch for crop irrigation and stock watering. The key: acquiring the conveyance portion of the winter season stock water to improve stream flows by at least 100 percent. The conveyance water was purchased at fair-market value and permanently transferred to the state Trust Water Program. Meanwhile, TCC and its shareholders will move their point of diversion to other ground  water sources.

The agreement is funded by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Yakama Nation. 

     “This is an innovative program that proves that agriculture people will sit down and work with state agencies if given the chance. It’s a win-win for everyone. The agreement makes sense and without the willingness of our shareholders to move forward, it would not have happened. We are proud that we were able to do this in a way that meets our needs and helps fish recover locally,” said Ben George, a farmer from Thorp and chairman of TCC.

     Stan Isley, of the state Department of Ecology, attributes the plan’s success to its mutual benefits. “This is a creative approach that maintains the irrigators’ stock-water rights and, at the same time, gets water into the stream.”

     Ecology Director Jay Manning said that this type of partnership involving local water right holders, a nonprofit organization, the Yakama Nation, state and federal agencies are “absolutely essential in helping restore fish habitat and improving stream flows in our river basins. This action is another key step forward in restoring and protecting fish in the Yakima River basin.”

As a result of this partnership, TCC shareholders will have the water resources they need for agricultural and livestock production. And, Taneum Creek will have the winter instream flows needed to support increasing fish populations. We expect spring Chinook, steelhead, coho, bull trout, cutthroat, rainbow trout and wintering bald eagles to benefit from these improved flows. Because both steelhead and bull trout are listed as threatened species, the benefits extend beyond the creek itself; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has identified Taneum Creek as having the potential to expand bull trout range throughout the broader Middle Columbia recovery area.