With construction set to begin on a multi-year project to restore the Yakima River’s connection to its historic floodplain and rehabilitate the surrounding ecosystem, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Yakima County held a groundbreaking ceremony November 14.
The $12 million Yakima River Gap-to-Gap Ecosystem Restoration Project will restore ecosystem process, structure, and function in the river’s gap-to-gap reach. It includes removing and realigning levees, removing spur dikes, restoring and reconnecting 320 acres of floodplains and reconnecting wetlands. Phase one construction will begin in the coming weeks and the three project areas include Sportsman Island, Blue Slough and Yakima Diking District #1.
Speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony included Yakima County Commissioner, District 2, Kyle Curtis; Joel Freudenthal, former Yakima County Water Resources Strategic Manager; David Blodgett, Yakama Nation; Seattle District Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Cherise Lao; Wendy Christensen, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Perry Harvester, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and Marc Duboiski, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
Under a cost-sharing agreement, the Corps of Engineers will pay 75% of the project cost and Yakima County will fund the remainder.
Federal project construction funds are part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (a.k.a Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). Nationally, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers received $17.1 billion for its Civil Works programs, projects and activities that will help address current and future water resources infrastructure needs. BIL/IIJA appropriations provided for aquatic ecosystem restoration, environmental infrastructure and flood risk management projects.
Phase one involves creating river side channels on Sportsman Island, near Yakima Sportsman State Park. It also involves floodplain grading in the Newlands Ponds area east of the river and just south of SR 24. Residents can expect some noise and effects on access to the State Park as equipment and materials are transported to or from the project site. Timing of phases two and three will depend upon progress with the first phase of construction and are expected to be complete in the next three years.
“This project demonstrates that by working together, we can bring to life innovative solutions to protect the environment and strengthen our communities,” Lao said during the ceremony.
In response to severe flooding, the Yakima authorized federal levee system and non-federal levees were built along the river. However, levee projects and land development changed the river’s natural course, disrupting the ecosystem and habitats of endangered species, including steelhead and bull trout. This project aims to restore the river's natural flow, which will create and sustain habitats for species native to the Yakima River.
“This project capitalizes on years of planning and immense effort by many talented individuals, for which we are grateful,” said Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney. “Breaking ground on this project is another giant step forward in pursuing a more functional Gap to Gap ecosystem for our residents, visitors, fish, and wildlife. This nature-based solution will lead to a more flood resilient community and positively impact the infrastructure we rely on daily, while providing development opportunities in the future. We can all look forward to seeing the Yakima River make new pathways as we celebrate community resiliency.”
Yakima County was awarded funds from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and the State Recreation and Conservation Office to supplement local funding for this project. In addition, numerous local, state and federal partners invested tens of millions of dollars in prior studies, infrastructure reconfiguration and land purchases to reach this milestone.
“The Corps of Engineers is thrilled to start construction of a project that the Yakima community envisioned decades ago,” said Seattle District Project and Program Manager Stephen Osgood. “The County has done an amazing job of marshalling resources to make this project possible. Through its contributions and with federal infrastructure investment, our partnership is going to benefit the aquatic ecosystem and all those who value the health of the Yakima River.”