Live in the Yakima Valley - A brief history of irrigation in the Yakima Valley


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Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy.  The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.



A brief history of irrigation in the Yakima Valley

A brief history of irrigation in the Yakima Valley

October 28, 2014

For thousands of years the Yakima Valley was a sagebrush laden desert.  It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that early pioneers truly made our region blossom. In the late 1890’s local entrepreneurs were privately funding irrigation districts throughout the Yakima Valley then in 1902 the United States Congress passed the Reclamation Act paving the way for federally funded dam and irrigation projects.  The formation of the Federal Bureau of Reclamation was crucial for regulating water rights and water storage efforts.  

The Yakima Project of 1905 was one of the first and largest efforts by the Bureau.  The project encompassed the purchase of many of the existing canals and building water storage reservoirs at Keechulus, Kachess, and Lake Cle Elum which feed the Yakima River while building of the Tieton and Bumping Lake reservoirs feed the Yakima’s tributaries, the Naches and Tieton Rivers.  These rivers in turn supply the Yakima Valley’s nearly 2,100 miles of irrigation canals.  By the 1920’s Yakima Valley growers were producing over 40 million dollars annually in fruit and produce earning us the title of “The Fruitbowl of the Nation.”

Since then the Bureau of Reclamation has continued improving water storage and delivery efforts through building dams, maintaining reservoirs, and working with various irrigation districts.  The Roza and Sunnyside Valley Irrigation Districts are the largest and fourth largest, respectively, statewide.  These two districts together serve over 180,000 acres of farmland and deliver an average of over 450,000 acre feet of water to their users each season.   According to Ron Van Gundy, policy director for the Roza Irrigation District, “One only needs to be looking out over our land to see the importance of irrigation to our tree fruit, grape vineyard, and dairy industries.  These canals combined with our nutrient rich soils produce the highest quality apples in the world.” Today Yakima County is the 12th largest agricultural region in the nation producing over 39 commodities and the largest producer of apples, hops, and mint.  We are blessed to feed our families with farm fresh produce, dairy, and beef products grown right here by growers we know and support.

Other links you might enjoy:

A brief history of the Yakima Valley Trolley | Zillah Teapot | A brief history of the Yakima Valley Library

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