Water Resource Planning in the Yakima River Basin: Development vs. Sustainability

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit


Publication Date



Water resource management in the agriculturally rich Yakima River Basin is at a crossroads. The vast majority of surface water withdrawals in the basin are used for irrigation, but current water supplies are frequently inadequate to meet this need. The recently proposed comprehensive Watershed Management Plan for the Yakima Basin relies on building major new water storage facilities, and $6.5 million in federal and state funding was secured in 2003 to study a huge new dam and reservoir. Yet local water users cannot pay for this $2 billion structure, and the national attitude toward water resource management is moving from a development paradigm to the recognition that water supplies have limits. Initiatives in the basin that are consistent with this latter approach include minimum instream flow targets, water use efficiency improvement programs, and making it easier to voluntarily transfer water rights. Future issues that have not yet been addressed will also affect water supply planning, but it is possible to set forth a recommended series of actions that can be taken now. The complex suite of water resource issues present in the Yakima Basin as of early 2004 should inform water resource management elsewhere in the West.


This article was originally published in Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers



Spatial Coverage (for ex: Ellensburg, WA)

Yakima River, Washington