Washington Water Trust

Working to restore our state's rivers and streams.

First Permanent Water Transaction on Teanaway Helps Restore Fish Access to 90% of Watershed

—Story by Jeff Gersh, Narrative Labs

Bat Masterson was a legend in the old American West as a hunter, gambler, and lawman, a close associate of Wyatt Earp. Today, the Masterson family name is aligned with the restoration of a legendary river.

“I’m pretty fond of our river, the Teanaway,” says Kathi Masterson. “It’s so beautiful.”

The Teanaway and its three branches emerge in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a ninety-minute drive from Seattle. Up to two-thirds of this sixty-mile river system offers some of the most significant habitat for spawning and rearing steelhead in the upper Yakima Basin. Migrating and resident bull trout, another Endangered Species Act listed species, are also found here; and the Yakama tribe is reintroducing Chinook salmon. Just one Chinook redd was found in the Teanaway in the late 1990’s, but this year biologists counted 64.

Surveys show that salmon and steelhead were plentiful before 1904, with perhaps as many as 800,000 returning adults every year. But the river has had a difficult history. For decades, it was a highway for timber sent downstream in log rafts that pummeled its banks. By the 1930’s, the lower five miles of the Teanaway to its confluence with the Yakima River were dewatered or dry during the irrigation season, eliminating access for adult fish to nearly 90 percent of the watershed. Flows in parched years could drop as low as 7 cubic feet per second. And, until recently, the locally common practice for diverting water was to bulldoze berms into the river.

The future looks quite different.

For nearly a decade, CBWTP has supported efforts by the Washington Water Trust (WWT) to enhance flows in the Teanaway. Water leases have been a critical tool for establishing relationships with landowners. This year, in addition to negotiating leases for 5 cubic feet per second of instream flows, WWT secured the first permanent water transaction on the river, a milestone that affirms their long-term investment in trust-building. “This acquisition is helping to remove a bottleneck that blocks access to a vast amount of upstream habitat,” says an enthusiastic Tom Ring, hydrogeologist with the Yakama tribe.

WWT’s agreement secures up to 7.6 cfs for the Teanaway on the Masterson Ranch, one of the earliest homesteads in northern Kittitas County. Kathi Masterson retired a leaky, four-mile-long earthen ditch once used to convey water to flood-irrigated fields. In exchange, she now has the funds to pay off an investment in a pressurized and piped irrigation system that is more efficient and easier to manage. Kathi says, “There were a lot of meetings before I even considered selling the ditch water; a lot of it was about comfort and trust.” But she’s pleased with the outcome. “It’s a great thing—this effort to protect water for our streams and rivers.” 

According to Stan Isley, stream patrolman for the Teanaway with the Washington State Department of Ecology, “This transaction opens the front door on the river. I can’t overemphasize its importance. It’s wonderful for the fish and the Yakama people, and for all of us.” 

“I admire the pioneer spirit and way of life,” Stan says. “But it’s nice that with our modern eyes we can see that we don’t have to choose between ranching or fish. We can have both.”