Lower Yakima River GRP

Table of Contents


Site Description

This section provides an overview of the area’s physical features, hydrology, climate and winds, and tides and currents in the Lower Yakima River GRP planning area, and an oil spill risk assessment in Section 2.6. The Lower Yakima River GRP boarders the Middle Columbia River McNary Pool GRP to the southeast, and the proposed Upper Yakima River GRP to the northwest. From the Highway I-182/US 12 Bridge at river mile (RM) 4.25 in West Richland, the planning area follows the Yakima River upstream to RM 131.25, above the Roza Diversion Dam at RM 128. The planning area covers about 676 square miles and resides within Water Resource Inventory Area Rock-Glade (WRIA 31), Lower Yakima (WRIA 37), Naches (WRIA 38), Upper Yakima (WRIA 39), and Alkali-Squilchuck (WRIA 40). The communities of Benton City, Grandview, Granger, Moxee, Prosser, Selah, Union Gap, Wapato, West Richland, and Yakima are located within the boundaries of this planning area, as well as the northeastern corner of reservation lands for the Yakama Nation, and portions of Benton, Kittitas, and Yakima counties.

Physical Features

The physical features of the area now known as eastern and central Washington and Oregon were greatly influenced by volcanic activity, which built up a stratum of mud, ash, and lava in the geologic column during the Eocene (55.8-33.9 million years ago), Oligocene (33.9-23 million years ago), and Miocene (23-5.3 million years ago) Epochs (UC Museum of Paleontology, 2011). Basalt flows, known as the Columbia River Basalt Group, then covered the area in layers, forming a strong foundation of basaltic rock at least one mile thick (Foster 2008).  Subsequent lava and ash eruptions raised the Cascade Mountains during the Miocene Epoch, after which the mountains began to lift, when hundreds of volcanoes erupted during the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million – 11,700 years ago). As the mountains rose, the Yakima, Snake, and Columbia Rivers carved out deep gorges. Towards the end of the Pleistocene (~16,000-14,000 years ago) the Missoula floods battered these gorges over 100 times when the glacial dam forming Glacial Lake Missoula was repeatedly breached, releasing high velocity debris-filled waters to a height of 900 feet and scouring the landscape with a discharge of 10 million cubic feet per second (Lee 2009). This series of events has been described as one of the greatest flood occurrences in the history of the earth (WA Military Dept.).

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The geologic composition of the Yakima Basin limits the amount of sediment transported downriver. Erosional and depositional forces still play a major role in the life of the river, although eroded material from the Cascades largely replaces what is swept away. Over time, through erosion and deposition, the Yakima River has frequently changed its course over the wide floodplain (Yakima County 2007). The main channel has shifted to the north and south of its present location as the flow varied seasonally over the eons.

Water from both the Yakima and Naches Rivers is of critical importance to the region. The majority of the Yakima Valley is comprised of a shrub-steppe landscape which is common in dryer soil locations away from water areas. River banks and shoreline habitats exhibit wetland characteristics with vegetation in the bottom lands that include: cottonwood, willow, hawthorn, wild rose chokecherry, serviceberry and other deciduous plants (Yakima County). Riparian habitat in the planning area is also rich in fish, including salmon, and wildlife including migratory birds and native species.

An abundance of water and wildlife created an ideal environment for human habitation. The land surrounding the Yakima and Naches Rivers provides ample evidence that humans have been present in the area for thousands of years. The oldest evidence is a Clovis-style projection point discovered on the pre-reservoir shoreline of Cle Elum Lake was dated to approximately 11,500 years ago (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). The first inhabitants of the Yakima Basin were believed to have been nomads who established temporary hunting, fishing, or gathering camps between 11,000 and 4,500 BCE. Over time, native peoples began to become more reliant on fish and other resources in the area. Archaeological evidence from about 3,000 BCE suggests that people harvesting salmon, starting living in shallow pithouses along the rivers in the area, while continuing to visit hunting and fishing camps located elsewhere. By 1,900 BCE, pithouses were widely used by an increasingly large population with a heavier reliance on salmon fishing. More permanent accommodations had been established by 1000 CE, as evidenced by winter villages with pithouses and large longhouses. The winter villages evolved into major settlements where inhabitants lived in circular houses with conical roofs (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). One major village on the Lower Yakima River, called “tsikik” or “spring,” had an estimated population of 2,000. These early inhabitants of the Yakima River Basin were the ancestors of the tribes and bands that remain in the area today.

Europeans and Americans had begun exploring the coasts and trading in the Pacific Northwest in the 18th century with trade items being transported inland into the Yakima River Basin during that period by Native Americans. First contact between Euro-Americans and Native Americans in the region occurred in 1805 when the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled down the Snake River and into the Columbia River, stopping at the confluence with the Yakima River (Lewis 1992). By the early 19th century Euro-Americans were entering the area as explorers and fur traders, after which military, missionaries, and settlers arrived, establishing towns by the latter half of the century.

The United States of America wished to secure access to the region’s natural resources for the benefit of its growing population. In 1854 and 1855 the Washington Territory Governor, Isaac Stevens, traveled across what is now Washington State to negotiate and sign treaties with every Native American tribe (Glowen). Several treaties were signed at Camp Stevens, in the Walla Walla Valley, including the Yakima Treaty, which united 14 tribes and bands into the Yakama Nation on June 9, 1855 (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla signed the Walla Walla Treaty that same day, and the Nez Perce Tribe signed a treaty two days later (Glowen).

The Euro-American population in the valley grew quickly after the treaties were signed. Yakima County was established in 1865 and the original Yakima City was founded in 1883 (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). Northern Pacific Railroad installed rail lines four miles north of Yakima City, inspiring many local business owners to move their buildings closer to the terminal, thereby establishing North Yakima, which was incorporated in 1886 (Great Yakima Chamber of Commerce). The “North” was eventually dropped and the city is now just known as Yakima, while the original, “Old Town,” is known as Union Gap.

Due to the low amount of annual rainfall in the area, irrigation is and has been critically important to the development of farmlands in the Yakima Valley. The first irrigation ditch was installed as early as 1853 (Great Yakima Chamber of Commerce). Private irrigation ventures that diverted water from the Yakima and Naches Rivers continued through the early 1900’s. Later, the state and federal governments became involved in irrigation systems. In hopes that agriculture in the valley might flourish (US Bureau of Reclamation 2011). The United States government’s newly established Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) began the Yakima Project in 1905, building infrastructure to capture and direct the movement of water in an efficient manner (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). The Yakima Project eventually led to the construction of nine dams and two power plants in the area.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the perennial struggle over water among various interest groups became increasingly bitter. All water rights in the area had been assigned, making the acquisition of water to meet future demands for municipal and domestic needs difficult (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). Controversy over water was exacerbated by the impacts to native habitat and wildlife caused by massive withdrawals of water for agriculture and other economic endeavors (WA Dept. of Ecology). Now, a complex system of water rights is used to guide the appropriation of water in the Yakima River. In 2012, The Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan was developed between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Washington Department of Ecology, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and other federal, state, county, and municipal stakeholders (US Bureau of Reclamation 2012). The management plan established the framework for current and future actions so the water needs of all stakeholders might be met. The plan includes elements related to fish passages, fish habitat enhancements, modification and operation of existing structures, surface water storage, groundwater storage, enhanced water conservation, and market-based reallocation (WA Dept. of Ecology).

Today, the effective management of water rights has helped make the Yakima Valley one of the most productive and diversified farming regions in the nation (Great Yakima Chamber of Commerce). Production includes fruit tree crops (apple, cherry, and pear), alfalfa, hops, mint, grapes, green beans, peas, and corn. Many believe that the Yakima and Naches Rivers, and their associated riparian ecosystems, are integral to the region’s quality of life. Water also provides economic benefits from tourism and recreation. Fly-fishing is popular on the Yakima River; the state’s only “Blue Ribbon” trout stream (USBLM). Wildlife viewing, kayaking, and rafting are also popular recreational activities in the planning area.

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The Yakima River originates in the Cascade Range as an outlet from Keechelus Lake at the Keechelus Dam (~RM 215), about 8 miles southeast of Snoqualmie Pass. Outflows from Bumping, Kachess, Rimrock, and Cle Elum Lakes are also dam controlled, and feed into the Yakima River through tributary rivers and creeks downstream. The dams and lakes (reservoirs) are managed by USBR as part of the larger Yakima Project, which provides irrigation water for a narrow strip of fertile land that extends for 175 miles on both sides of the Yakima River. The irrigable lands presently being served total approximately 464,000 acres. The total water holding capacity among the five reservoirs is 1,065,670 acre-feet (USBR 2016).  Water is typically stored in the reservoirs during winter months and released in the summer, reducing or contributing to water flow in the Yakima River. Mountain snowpack, known as the “sixth reservoir,” also plays a crucial role in recharging the lakes during warmer periods.

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The Yakima Project is separated into seven divisions: Storage, Kittitas, Tieton, Sunnyside, Roza, Kennewick and Wapato. Four of those divisions fall within the area boundaries of this plan, including:

  1. The Roza Division is located on the Yakima River at river mile 127.9. The Roza Diversion Dam marks the upstream border of the Roza Division, which is managed by the USBR, and provides water to approximately 27,000 acres. The Roza power plant, one of the two power plants in the planning area, is located within this division. The Roza power plant provides electricity for nearby irrigation pumps (USBR 2012).
  2. The Wapato Division begins at the Wapato Diversion Dam (RM 106.7) and is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (USBIA) with support from the Yakama Nation. This division irrigates approximately 136,000 acres.
  3. The Sunnyside Division begins at the Sunnyside Diversion Dam (RM 103.8) and ends near Benton City, it provides irrigation to approximately 99,000 acres of land in the lower Yakima Valley. The division is managed by four separate irrigation districts: Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District, Grandview Irrigation District, Benton Irrigation District, and the Zillah Irrigation District (USBR 2009).
  4. The Kennewick Division begins at the Chandler Diversion Dam, (RM 47.1) and is managed by the USBR as one irrigation district. This division provides water to 19,171 acres of irrigable land. The second of two power plants, the Chandler Pumping and Generating Plant, is located within the division and is also operated by USBR. The plant provides electricity for the Bonneville Power Administration’s grid. A ten-mile canal leading from the Chandler Diversion Dam directs water to the plant.

The planning area resides within Water Resource Inventory Area Rock-Glade (WRIA 31), Lower Yakima (WRIA 37), Naches (WRIA 38), Upper Yakima (WRIA 39), and Alkali-Squilchuck (WRIA 40). Much of central Washington is arid, receiving less than 20 inches of rain annually. Precipitation typically occurs during the winter months when overall water demands are the lowest. During the summer, snow pack is gone, there is little rain, and naturally low stream flows are dependent on groundwater inflow. This means that groundwater and surface water are least available when water demands are the highest

Rock-Glade (WRIA 31): This watershed comprises the southern portion of Benton County, eastern side of Klickitat County, and southeast corner of Yakima County. It’s bounded by the Columbia River to the east and south. Rock Creek and Glade Creek are included in this area.

Lower Yakima (WRIA 37): This watershed comprises portions of Benton, Klickitat, and Yakima Counties. A significant portion of the Yakama Nation Reservation also resides within this area. The Yakima River extends through the watershed to its confluence with the Columbia River near Richland, WA.

Naches (WRIA 38): This watershed comprises portions of Kittitas and Yakima Counties. The Naches River extends through the area to its confluence with the Yakima River in Yakima, WA. The Tieton River is also located within this area. It extends from uplands above Clear Lake and Rimrock Lake, downstream to its confluence with the Naches River near Naches, WA.

Upper Yakima (WRIA 39): This watershed comprises portions of Kittitas and Yakima Counties. The Yakima River extends through the area from Keechelus Lake below Snoqualmie Pass, downstream to Selah, WA. The Kachess, Cle Elum, and Teanaway Rivers are also included in this watershed.

Alkali-Squilchuck (WRIA 40): This watershed comprises the northern section of Benton County, southeastern Chelan County, eastern Kittitas County, and northeastern Yakima County. Bounded by the Columbia River to the east, the watershed extends from Squilchuck Creek, downstream through the Hanford Reservation to Richland. Alkali Creek, Cummings Canyon Creek, Squilchuck Creek, and Stemilt Creek are included in this area.

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Climate and Winds

The climate of the Yakima River Basin is greatly influenced by a substantial change in elevation between the upper and lower sections of the Yakima River. The upstream extent of the river at the Keechelus Dam is at an elevation of 2,449 feet. From there, the river drops 2,109 feet in elevation before joining the Columbia River in Richland at an elevation of 340 feet. The Yakima River is situated on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range which has an elevation in excess of 8,000 feet (WA Dept. of Ecology).

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Clouds enter Washington from the Pacific Ocean to the west and rise to cross the Cascades. They release the majority of their water at higher elevations in order to make it over the mountain barrier. Typically, 140 inches of precipitation falls every year near the five reservoirs in the Upper Yakima River. Little rain is left for the eastern side of the Cascades and the Yakima River Valley, which only receives an average of ten inches of precipitation annually (WA Dept. of Ecology). Precipitation primarily occurs as drizzle or intermittent rains in December and January with extended periods of cloudiness (NOAA). A few regional storms with showers occur in winter but heavy rain is rare. The climate in the Yakima River Valley is semi-arid; hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Between the cities of Yakima and Richland, low temperatures average 21F to 27F in December, while highest temperatures in both locations average 88F in July.

Prevailing winds in the area are typically from the southwest or west, but northeasterly winds generally persist in fall and winter months (WRCC). Wind velocities usually range from 4-12 mph, with 13-24 mph winds occurring 15-24% of the time. Winds in excess of 25 mph occur about 2% of the time. When high velocity winds do occur they are usually associated with rapidly moving weather systems entering the area from the west or southwest. The likelihood of winds over 80 mph is rare; about once every 100-years. Winds between 60-70 mph might occur once every 50- years or so, while wind events with speeds up to 50 mph can be expected every other year.

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Tides and Currents

Although there are no tidally influenced locations within this planning area, the dramatic difference in seasonal precipitation has historically created large swings in flow rates in the Yakima and Naches Rivers which, in turn, influence river currents. The Yakima River’s flow is now moderated by the presence of reservoirs, dams, and other irrigation infrastructure (USBR 1999). The reservoirs managed by the Yakima Project have reduced winter flows by storing water within lake reservoirs, and have increased summer flow rates by releasing water back into the river. From spring through fall, diversion dams and other irrigation measures are used extensively on the river to direct the flow of water. USBR and local irrigation districts determine when and how much water is allowed to pass through any given area. The lowest flow rates on the Yakima River typically occur during the late summer, autumn, and winter months. Higher flows usually occur during the spring snow melt (USBR 1999).

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Risk Assessment

The Lower Yakima River is plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills. Potential oil spill risks include, but are not limited to, road transportation, rail transportation, aircraft, recreational boating, and other oil spill risks. This section briefly discusses these risks and how they could impact this planning area.

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Road Systems: Vehicle traffic on roadways pose an oil spill risk in areas where they run adjacent to the shorelines, or cross over lakes, rivers, creeks, and ditches that drain into the Yakima River. The most significant highway in the area is Interstate 82 (I-82). It parallels the river along much of its length, and crosses over it four times within the boundaries of this planning area. The interstate also crosses the Naches River at one location. There are many primary, secondary and tertiary routes that also parallel the Yakima River, including Highway 12, 22, 24, 97, 223, and 225. In the City of Yakima, Highway 12 splits from I-82 and extends in a northwesterly direction, parallel to the Naches River in many areas, crossing over it at one location.
A vehicle spill onto one of these bridges or roadways can cause fuel or oil to flow from hardened surfaces into the Yakima River or its tributaries. Commercial trucks can contain hundreds to thousands of gallons of fuel and oil, especially fully loaded tank trucks, and may carry almost any kind of cargo, including hazardous waste or other materials that might injure sensitive resources if spilled. Smaller vehicle accidents pose a risk as well, a risk commensurate to the volume of fuel and oil they carry.

Rail Transportation and Facilities: Rail companies transport oil via manifest trains in this area. Manifest trains include: up to four locomotives, a mix of non-oil merchandise cars, and one or more 714-barrel (29,998 gallon) capacity USDOT-approved tank cars carrying refined oil products, such as diesel, lubrication oil, or gasoline. These trains may include emptied tank cars, each with residual quantities of up to 1,800 gallons of crude oil or petroleum products. Every train locomotive typically holds a few hundred gallons of engine lubrication oil, plus saddle tanks that each have an approximate capacity of 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Manifest trains may also transport biological oils and non-petroleum chemicals.

The BNSF Yakima Subdivision runs adjacent to the Yakima River along much of its length, crossing the river four times within the planning area. BNSF track also runs adjacent to the Naches River between Yakima and Naches, parallel to Highway 12, crossing the river at one location. In addition to BNSF, five other railroad companies own or operate track in the area, including: Central Washington Railroad, Tri-City Railroad Company, Union Pacific, Yakima Central Railway, and Yakima Valley Trolleys.

Yakima Valley Trolleys is a non-profit organization (501-C3) that works to preserve America’s last intact, early 20th Century, interurban electric railroad. It’s considered a living history museum that also provides transit services to the public (Yakima Valley Trolleys).

Aircraft: The Yakima Air Terminal-McAllister Field is the largest airport in the planning area. It’s owned by the City of Yakima and used for commercial and general aviation services. There are several smaller airports and helipads in the planning area, close to the river. The potential exists for aircraft failures during inbound or outbound flights that could result in the Yakima River or one of its tributary streams.

Recreational Boating: Accidents involving recreational water craft on the Yakima River have the potential to result in spills of a few gallons of gasoline up to hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel. Examples of such accidents might include vessel collisions, allisions, groundings, fires, sinking, or explosions. Bilge discharges and mishaps during boat refueling operations are generally the most typical types of oil spills to occur.

Other Spill Risks: Other potential oil spill risks in the area include fuel storage areas (including waste oil storage), road run-off during rain events, on-shore or near shore activities where heavy equipment is being operated or stored, mechanical failures at dams or power generating facilities, and the migration of spilled oil through soil on lands adjacent to the river or its tributary streams.

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the planning area. It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns exist. It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains. General information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife can be found near the end of this section.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive. Some of the sensitive resources described in this chapter cannot be addressed in Section 4 (Response Strategies and Priorities) because it’s not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations. Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is presented with enough detail to give general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response. During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit in the Planning Section.

The information provided in this chapter can be used in:

  • Assisting the Environmental Unit (EU) and Operations in developing additional response strategies beyond those found in Section 4.
  • Providing resource-at-risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the GRP area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the GRP area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.

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Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

Most biological communities are susceptible to the effects of oil spills. Plant communities on land, aquatic plants; microscopic plants and animals; and larger animals, such as fish, amphibians and reptiles, birds, mammals, and a wide variety of invertebrates, are all at potentially at risk from smothering, acute toxicity, and/or the chronic long-term effects that may result from being exposed to spilled oil.

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This section of the Yakima River basin includes a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats. These varied habitats support a complex diversity of wildlife species, including various salmonid species, large and small mammals, song birds, birds of prey, upland birds, and other waterfowl, as well as reptiles and amphibians. Some species are resident throughout the year; others are migratory either within the basin or, in numerous cases seasonally migrate outside the basin. Many wildlife species found in this area are classified as threatened, endangered, sensitive, or candidate for listing under either the federal Endangered Species Act or Washington State guidelines. The Yakima River has also been designated as critical habitat for Bull trout and Steelhead – both federally-listed species. Classification types are listed below, with the abbreviation of each type provided in the brackets (to the right of the classification).

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Sensitive species that may occur within this area, at some time of year, include the following federal and state listed species:


  • American white pelican [ST]
  • Common Loon [SS]
  • Ferruginous hawk [ST]*
  • Greater sage-grouse [ST]*
  • Sandhill crane [SE]
  • Yellow- billed cuckoo [FT]*


  • Gray wolf [SE/FT]*
  • Western gray squirrel [ST]*


  • Bull trout [FT]
  • Steelhead [FT]

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General Resource Concerns


  • Riverine channels provide migration routes for both out-migrating juvenile and returning adult salmon. River channels with appropriate gravel substrates, cool temperature waters and flow regimes offer spawning habitat for both anadromous and resident salmonids. All of the Yakima River and its major tributaries in this planning area are designated critical habitat for bull trout and steelhead.
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  • Wetlands in this region range from freshwater emergent, freshwater forested/shrub, freshwater ponds and lakes. All wetland types support a diverse array of bird, insect and fish and wildlife species.
  • Backwater channels, stream mouths, and sloughs provide important feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and herons and are critical rearing and resting areas for juvenile fish.
  • Islands provide important nesting habitat for a variety of bird species, as well as habitat for a variety of mammals.
  • Riparian vegetation is heavily used by a variety of wildlife and may also improve nearshore fish habitat.
  • Human-made structures such as pilings and rock jetties may be used as roosting or nesting areas for a variety of birds.

Fish and Shellfish:

  • Juvenile and/or adult salmonids (including Coho salmon, Chinook, and Sockeye salmon, and steelhead) are present in the river throughout the year. Juvenile salmonids use backwaters, nearshore areas, and protected bays as rearing and foraging areas prior to migration into the ocean. Returning adult salmonids support significant tribal, commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Anadromous fish (other than salmon) in this region include Pacific lamprey, river lamprey and western brook lamprey.
  • A wide variety of resident fish are present year-round in the river and include trout, sucker, bullhead, catfish, dace, bass, bluegill, sculpin, and walleye. Many of these species contribute to recreational fisheries and all provide important contributions to stream ecology.
  • Freshwater mussels, (California floater), have been reported to exist within this general area although no documented occurrence data was found for this particular reach.


  • Migratory and wintering waterfowl – The Yakima River supports significant waterfowl concentrations from fall through spring. Hundreds of thousands of geese and dabbling ducks may occupy this region during peak periods. Resident and migratory waterfowl heavily utilize the islands, sloughs, wetlands and adjacent uplands of the region from fall through spring. The many islands in this area also provide nesting habitat for resident waterfowl. Key among these are cinnamon and green-winged teal, gadwall, and American white pelican. Trees along the Naches River provides breeding habitat for the cavity-nesting wood duck.
  • Great blue herons and raptors such as osprey, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, Swainson’s hawk, golden eagle, prairie falcon, and the American kestrel are nesting residents of this area and may be found year-round throughout the region. In addition, the Naches River provides breeding habitat for Lewis’ woodpecker and the greater sage-grouse.
  • Resident and migratory songbirds heavily utilize riparian habitats year-round and are susceptible to oiling if riparian vegetation and shorelines become contaminated.
  • Mammals common to the reach include deer and elk, bats, and various semi-aquatic species such as muskrat, beaver, river otter, etc. Semi-aquatic mammals are largely dependent on riverine areas, ponds, tributaries, and riparian forests for den sites and foraging areas.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

The Yakama Nation, irrigation infrastructure, private lands, and recreational areas are located within the YAK-GRP planning area. Specific areas of concern are listed below and depicted on the map in Figures 1-4. The number preceding the area name in the list below relates to the numbered area on the map.

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  1. W.E. Johnson Park (~RM 6 – 7): Approximately 236 acres of public day-use area administered by Richland Parks and Recreation. Off channel habitat provides fish and waterfowl concentration areas. Open space, wetlands, riparian vegetation. Recreation includes hiking and birding.
  2. Barker Ranch Wetland (~RM 12 – 16): Approximately 2,000 acres of off-channel areas for fish and birds, waterfowl concentration area, and great blue heron presence. Wetland draws water from Yakima River. There are also several associated islands along the river main stem with back channels.
  3. Horn Rapids County Park (~RM 18 – 21): Approximately 800 acres of transitional river backchannel area north side of island RM 20 fish and bird habitat. While American white pelicans [SE] and other birds forage just downstream of the Horn Rapids Dam.
  4. The Island (~RM 24.5): Back Channel area current refuge for salmonids and waterfowl.
  5. Songbird Island (~RM 26 – 27): Juvenile salmonid rearing and waterfowl habitat.
  6. Sunnyside Wildlife Recreation Area/Byron Pond Unit (~RM 52 – 57, south side): Approximately 1,000 acres. Waterfowl concentration areas. These wetlands and ponds serve as a nesting/breeding and overwintering habitat for waterfowl and other birds.
  7. Sunnyside State Wildlife Recreation Area (~RM 57 – 59 south side, ~RM 59 – 72 north side): Waterfowl concentration area. Habitat used by a variety of ducks, geese and swans. Great blue heron nesting area ~RM 98.5-69.5.
  8. Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge (~ RM 72 – 79, south side): Close proximity to major waterfowl concentration area. Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream. Significant juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels.
  9. Blue heron concentration area (~ RM 79 – 82): Heron rookery (nesting) area along riparian area.
  10. Zillah area wetland (~RM 88 – 93): The back channel area to the north of the main channel offer habitat for warm water fish as well as off-channel forage and refuge areas for salmonids, including; Chinook, coho, steelhead, and rainbow trout.. There is a great blue heron rookery at the north end of this area between RM 92 and 93.
  11. Buena area wetland (~RM 94.5 – 98): Foraging area for nesting osprey. The back channel area to the east of the main channel offer habitat for warm water fish as well as off channel forage and refuge areas for salmonids.
  12. Parker area wetland (~RM 106 – 107): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl along nearby islands and river channels.
  13. Union Gap braided river system (~RM 107.4 – 110): Off channel areas to the east of the main channel supports a waterfowl concentration great blue heron and painted turtles. These areas also support salmonids particularly overwintering juveniles.
  14. Yakima Sportsman State Park (~RM 112): Approximately 250 acres of public access recreation area administered by Washington State Parks. Significant back channel habitat suitable for salmonids and birds.
  15. Selah wetlands (~RM 117-121): Waterfowl concentration area, primarily mallards and Canada geese. A great blue heron nesting area is located on the west bank of the river (~RM 121). Salmonid habitat present in adjacent off channel areas. Riverine and wetland habitats.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Maps and Descriptions

Figure 1: Specific Areas of Concern – West Richland to Benton City


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Figure 2: Specific Areas of Concern – Grandivew to Granger


Figure 3: Specific Areas of Concern – Zillah to Parker


Figure 4: Specific Areas of Concern – Union Gap to Selah.

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Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally significant resources are present within the planning area. Information regarding the type and location of cultural resources is maintained by the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP). This sensitive information is made available to the Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning. The Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) or Cultural Resource Departments of local tribes (see table 6-1) may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in the area and should be contacted, along with WDAHP, through normal trustee notification processes when significant oil spills, or smaller spills above reportable thresholds, occur in the area.

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During a spill response, after the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit. In order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm culturally sensitive sites, WDAHP should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action. WDAHP and/or the Tribal governments may assign a person, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted, to monitor response activities and cleanup operations for the protection of cultural resources. Due to the sensitive nature of such information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not included in this document.


Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (360) 586-3080 Rob.Whitlam@dahp.wa.gov
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (509) 731-7733 Awhurley@usbr.gov
Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation (509) 865-1617 bill.white@elwha.nsn.us

Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times (photographing human remains is prohibited to all except the appropriate authorities). Refer to Section 9403 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources

If any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources, all work must be stopped immediately and the Incident Commander and Cultural Resource Specialist notified. The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Prehistoric Cultural Resources: (May include, but are not limited to, any of the following items):

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs, fish traps, and prehistoric water craft
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)

Historic cultural material: (May include any of the following items over 50 years old):

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams, or shipwrecks

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Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Socio-economic sensitive resources are facilities or locations that rely on a body of water to be economically viable. Because of their location, they could be severely impacted if an oil spill were to occur. Economically sensitive resources are separated into three categories: critical infrastructure, water dependent commercial areas, and water dependent recreation areas. Appendix 6A of this chapter provides a list of economic resources for this planning area.

General Information

Flight Restriction Zones: Flight restriction zones may be recommended by the Environmental Unit (Planning Section) for the purpose of reducing disturbances that could result in injury to wildlife during an oil spill. By keeping a safe distance or altitude from identified sensitive areas, pilots can lessen the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental hazing of wildlife into oiled areas, and avoid causing the abandonment of nests.

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Implementation of Flight Restriction Zones will take place within the Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) after a Unified Command is formed. The Planning Section’s Environmental Unit will work with the Air Ops Branch Director to resolve any potential conflicts with flight activities that are essential to the spill response effort. Typically, the area within a 1,500-foot radius and below 1,000 feet in altitude is restricted to flying in areas that have been identified as sensitive; however, some areas have more restrictive zones. In addition to restrictions associated with wildlife, Tribal authorities may also request notification when overflights are likely to affect culturally sensitive areas within reservations. See Section 9301.3.2 and Section 9301.3.3 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for more information on the use of aircraft and helicopters in open water and shoreline responses.

Wildlife Deterrence: Attempting to capture oiled wildlife can be hazardous to both the animal and the person attempting the capture. Response personnel should not approach or attempt to recover oiled wildlife. Responders should report their observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch so appropriate action can be taken. Information provided should include the location, date, and time of the sighting, and the estimated number and kind of animals observed. Early on in the response, before a Unified Command is established, oiled wildlife sightings should be reported to Washington Emergency Management Division. For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310).

Oiled Wildlife: Attempting to capture oiled wildlife can be hazardous to both the animal and the person attempting the capture. Response personnel should not approach or attempt to recover oiled wildlife. Responders should report their observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch so appropriate action can be taken. Information provided should include the location, date, and time of the sighting, and the estimated number and kind of animals observed. Early on in the response, before a Unified Command is established, oiled wildlife sightings should be reported to Washington Emergency Management Division. For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310).
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