River Watch-The Teanaway
by: Washington Water Trust Posted on: October 21, 2010
Restoring Flows and Fish in the Teanaway River
Since 1999, Washington Water Trust (WWT) has been quietly restoring stream flows in the Teanaway River. A unique landscape in central Washington, Teanaway River Valley is located in Kittitas County about 20 minutes from Cle Elum and just over an hour from Seattle. It is home to spring salmon, steelhead, bull trout, cutthroat trout, elk, deer, countless farms, cabins and, of course, Mt. Stuart.
Folks often drop by the Teanaway River to swim or fish on a hot summer day, but stopping in for a few hours or even a day doesn’t fully capture its history, beauty or the value of recent efforts made toward restoring this valley. “As late as the early 1990s, the lower Teanaway River went dry on an annual basis in August and September due primarily to irrigation diversions for the valley’s primary crop, Timothy hay,” said Jason McCormick, Project Manager at WWT. In 1999, WWT began working in the Teanaway River Valley using market-based financial incentives and collaboration to seek solutions with irrigators that would allow the farming culture of the valley to continue, while providing water to improve Teanaway River stream flows. Initially, discussions were long and progress was slow to produce projects demonstrating that WWT could deliver on its promises of balancing agricultural and flow needs along with financial incentives. WWT’s first projects began between 2000 and 2001, due largely to the onset of a severe drought in 2001. When financial assistance became a reality through funding from Washington Department of Ecology, Bonneville Power Administration, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other private foundations, irrigators found it possible to forego irrigation to improve Teanaway River flows.
Early Teanaway projects involved financial assistance to fund one-year leases aimed at solving problems on a year-to-year basis. Building on relationships developed during one-year leasing, WWT worked with willing landowners to implement longer-term leasing programs. With positive support from the community, WWT began receiving referrals and expanding its flow restoration program in the Teanaway River Valley one landowner at a time. “By 2006 WWT had 10 instream flow agreements in place which resulted in nearly 5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of additional flow in the Teanaway River–nearly doubling flows,” said Jason.
WWT’s early work slowly began to build trust and credibility amongst residents of the Teanaway Valley. Having local support and buy-in is important to WWT’s work, and it shows. Tony Crosetto, a partner in Teanaway Valley Family Farm notes, “Teanaway Valley Family Farm is excited to have contributed to the restoration of the Teanaway River. Working with WWT has been rewarding, and we’ve appreciated their professionalism, as well as their passion for the Teanaway Valley. Four generations of our family have enjoyed this valley, and through WWT’s efforts, many more generations will enjoy it, too.”
Since 2006 WWT has developed new projects and increased lease terms to up to 30 years. In 2010, WWT signed its first agreement to permanently place a large portion of a water right into the Teanaway River that will result in an additional 2cfs of instream flow. “Our projects are now restoring flows in perpetuity for a large portion of the Teanaway River in an amount that can be visually seen and measured,” said Jason.
“Our goal is to permanently place a total of at least 10 cfs in the Teanaway River” says Jason. WWT will continue its effort in the Teanaway River to maintain standing leases and seek permanent solutions until they reach their goal. “It will be a great day when we can gather at the Teanaway River and see that our efforts have sustained the life of this river.”
As flows increase in the Teanaway River, so have the number of fish returning to spawn. There were no spring Chinook returning to the Teanaway River to spawn in 1997. Just five years later that number had risen to 110 and it continues to climb. “This river offers proof that if you add water and remove barriers, fish will return to their natal habitats and we’ve seen it happen on our other projects in Washington as well,” notes Jason. “We aren’t just measuring our success here on the raw numbers of spring Chinook, but they happen to be the species that have been monitored the most, other species such as steelhead have increased in abundance as well,” Jason points out.
These are good signs that the river is getting healthier, but the river still has a ways to go. WWT continues to work with the people of the Teanaway River Valley every day until their work is complete.
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