North Central Washington is earning a reputation for leading the way in finding collaborative solutions to vexing resource challenges.
The latest success in working to find common ground is the deal struck between Trout Unlimited and the Pioneer Water Users Association that was reported in The World last week. The deal puts more water back in the Wenatchee watershed for fish while at the same time upgrading Pioneer’s aging and wasteful water delivery system.
For generations, Pioneer has been diverting water out of the Wenatchee River just above the Monitor Bridge, then channeling it through a canal through Sunnyslope and across the Wenatchee River to deliver water to some users in the northeast part of town. Under that system, as much as 15 cubic feet per second were diverted from the lower Wenatchee River, but not all of it was used.
Under the agreement, Trout Unlimited will use $3.5 million in grants to pay for a pressurized system that takes water out near the Wenatchee River bridge and delivers precise quantities needed via a pressurized system. This means that the entire 15 cfs of water will remain in the Wenatchee River, which at times drops as low as 250 cfs, so it’s a significant improvement. The irrigators receive the water they need and a new system without paying for it, and the fish benefit, too. It’s a classic win-win scenario.
These collaborative efforts only happen when people are willing to sit down and look for creative solutions to mutual challenges. Trout Unlimited is doing remarkable work in Eastern Washington figuring out creative ways to improve the habitat for fish. Along with other conservations organizations, they have been successful in improving habitat in the Methow that has improved fish runs there without damaging agriculture.
Just as with the Pioneer Water Users, the work in the Methow has also benefited irrigators by providing them with more efficient watering systems.
And Trout’s work isn’t just about having salmon for salmon’s sake, according to Lisa Pelly, who heads the Washington Water Project for TU. “There’s nothing we like better than seeing kids and people out fishing,” said Pelly.
There are important economic impacts from having fish in our rivers. We’re seeing this region become more popular with anglers who come from all over the country.
Trout Unlimited and other conservation organizations are proving time and time again that we can find ways to use water efficiently to support agriculture and development while at the same time maintaining high water quality for fish and people.
Somewhere along the way, there has been a misperception that a healthy environment and economic vitality are mutually exclusive — that having one means diminishing the other. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s true that there are some extreme environmental organizations that prefer to litigate rather than collaborate and find common ground. There are also irrigators who would prefer conflict to compromise. At the end of the day, extremist approaches accomplish nothing and the resulting conflict virtually guarantees that water will be wasted and habitat won’t be improved.
The approach that the Pioneer Water Users and Trout Unlimited have used is infinitely better. Our communities can learn from this and other similar efforts to get beyond petty politics and self interest and find ways to meet everyone’s needs in new, creative ways.
What has been accomplished is not unique. The Chelan Douglas Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land used a collaborative community approach to come up with a plan for the Wenatchee Foothills. Conservations organizations, county commissioners and timber folks will soon begin working together to find a solution to our forest health issues in the region. There are countless other examples.
Hats off to Pioneer Water Users board and Trout Unlimited for reminding us that working together is the best way to get things done.