U.S. Water News Online
AT THE SILVER DOLLAR CAFE, Wash. -- If the Black Rock
reservoir ever gets built, Dick Prigmore says his little way-station
out in the middle of nowhere will be buried under 700 feet of dirt.
``I don't think I'll be alive by the time this thing is going to
happen,'' says the 64-year-old owner of the Silver Dollar
cafe-tavern-convenience store, which stands alone at the intersection
of Washington 24 and 241.
The drought of 2001 gave new life to the dam dream, which has been
talked about off and on since the previous big drought in 1977.
The proposal is this: For the first time since Franklin D.
Roosevelt was president, build new water storage in the arid,
irrigated orchard country of the Yakima River Basin.
``Right now, it's an idea in its first baby steps,'' says Gary
Ballew, Benton County's sustainable development manager and the
current point man on Black Rock. ``It seems like an idea that has
In its grandest form, the off-stream dam would be one of the
largest of its kind in the world -- 595 feet high with a capacity to
store 1.7 million acre-feet of water.
Proposed for the Black Rock Valley, wedged between the Hanford
nuclear reservation, the Yakima Training Center and the Yakama Nation
reservation, the reservoir would draw water from the Columbia River
and return it to a tributary, the Yakima River.
But the price tag is staggering -- as much as $1.6 billion, the
same as the cost for two proposed baseball stadiums in New York for
the Yankees and the Mets.
Ballew smiles. ``That's really cheap'' -- relatively speaking, he
Pine Hollow, another proposed, smaller reservoir project for
central Washington, is estimated to run about $3,000 per acre-foot.
But to find the money to do it, the project would have to have the
support of just about everybody: several federal agencies, Congress,
the state, tribes, environmentalists and farmers.
``There's no one we don't need,'' Ballew said.
The Evergreen State lives with a feast-then-famine cycle of
precipitation. Most of it comes in the late fall and winter, but the
dry months of July and August are when farmers need water the most.
Nor is water evenly distributed across the state -- some parts of
the coast get more than 200 inches of rain annually, while parts of
central Washington's high desert get fewer than eight inches.
Reservoirs are a way to bank water for those not-so-rainy days.
Benton County has taken the lead for the time being on Black Rock,
budgeting $500,000 for study and related costs. Neighboring Yakima
County, which includes the Black Rock Valley, has agreed to pitch in
Gov. Gary Locke has promised $500,000 out of $2 million in federal
money he's dedicated to water storage, and the Benton County Farm
Bureau kicked in $10,000.
As envisioned right now, Black Rock reservoir would hold water
sucked out of the Columbia, and then piped into the Roza Irrigation
District system in the lower Yakima Valley.
``We are receptive to it being explored as a reservoir site,''
said Joye Redfield-Wilder, a spokeswoman for the state Department of
Ecology in Yakima.
But, she said, there are lots of questions still to be answered:
How would it affect water rights on the Columbia River? Can water for
the reservoir be taken out of the river without affecting
hydroelectric operations or anadromous fish?
Would migrating fish be confused if water were pulled from the
Columbia River and sent back into the Yakima River? Is the geology of
the area right for such a project?
``Those are some of the issues we felt they would need to look
into,'' she said.
During last year's drought emergency, the Roza Irrigation
District, which irrigates 72,500 acres, only received 37 percent of
the water it gets in a normal year from the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation-run Yakima Project.
The region needs more water storage because the existing supply is
over-appropriated, said Tom Monroe, operations manager for the
The seven-reservoir system in the project holds a little over a
million acre-feet of water and the demand is a little over 2.3
Irrigation, protective regulations for diminished wild fish runs
and population growth all are placing more demands on the Yakima
``There was not enough storage built originally for the demand for
irrigation,'' Monroe said. ``You rely totally on snowpack and runoff
to meet all your irrigation needs, and the storage can only hold less
than half the demand.''
Meanwhile, Prigmore, who's owned the Silver Dollar for almost 10
years, wonders what Black Rock talk will do to the value of his
investment, which has a sign out front that says: ``This is the
middle of nowhere.''
``It's going to stymie the sale of this property. Should this
thing happen, a person buying it would be looking at a limited time
for holding,'' Prigmore said.
``If I was in that position, I don't know if I would buy it.''
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