The elephant in the water world: agriculture
As a polar oceanographer long involved in climate research and a resident of the Yakima River Basin, I have followed closely the development of the Integrated Plan described in Sarah Jane Keller's article ("Climate-forced water planning," HCN, 8/5/13). There are a few points in her description that need clarification. First, a major portion of the $5 billion cost involves a new reservoir and an expanded reservoir -- which equates to two new reservoirs, not one. One new dam will be built in the Yakima Canyon and another will replace the current Bumping Dam. The latter will destroy a unique and irreplaceable ecosystem, including magnificent lower-elevation old-growth forest, as well as a prime recreation area, with a popular campground and cross-country ski area. Its utility for irrigation will decrease rapidly during a prolonged drought because of limited catchment in the Bumping Basin.
Second, although the Integrated Plan stresses the impact of climate warming on the mountain snowpack as justification for new reservoirs, it brushes aside important questions about how rising temperatures will affect agricultural practices or fish habitat. Having seen firsthand climate change that has occurred in the Arctic over the past couple of decades -- change of a magnitude none of us could have envisioned -- I think the economic projections used to produce a favorable cost-benefit ratio bear little resemblance to the actual changes that will occur within the projected life of the integrated plan. This plan requires very little sacrifice from the growers that it mainly benefits, while sacrificing for future generations the aesthetic, ecological and recreational values of the Bumping Basin. It ignores the real problem of antiquated and unrealistic water law in the West.