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Reservoir costly but good idea

 | Published on Saturday, February 28, 2009

A $7 billion reservoir in Black Rock Valley west of the Tri-Cities may be expensive, but the idea of drawing water from the Columbia River for Yakima Basin irrigation is a good one, speakers told about 120 people in Richland on Friday.

"I believe in the concept of Black Rock," said Sid Morrison, chairman of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance. The alliance supports building the massive reservoir that would bank water pumped from the Columbia River to help offset drought years in the Yakima Basin.

"This is an inter-basin transfer," said Morrison, who told members and guests of the Badger Club that the Yakima River has been overappropriated for irrigation.

The Black Rock project as envisioned also would allow more water to remain in the Yakima River to benefit fish, and would spur development and new recreation in the Mid-Columbia.

"It is borrowing water when nobody needs it and returning it, in time, with fish," Morrison said.

Darryll Olsen, resource economist with the Columbia-Snake Irrigators Association, said the proposed Black Rock Reservoir is the right idea, but not the only answer.

Olsen questioned whether Black Rock's estimated $7 billion cost is affordable and if it could be built before the Yakima Basin's water crisis begins to have a permanent effect on agriculture.

Both men said the goal is to get more water for irrigation districts and to increase flows for salmon in the Yakima River.

"We've focused on the issue, now we have to go forward. Key is cost and timeline," Olsen said.

Olsen said the "Black Rock concept" could be less expensive if modified to be a pipeline from the Columbia across Black Rock Valley to tie in with the proposed Wymer Reservoir. It would provide new water to the Roza Irrigation District to meet future municipal demand and as a buffer in drought years.

Olsen said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has completed its study and decided to take no action on Black Rock or any other alternative. "I don't look to the federal government for money to solve our water problems," he said.



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