(The Center Square) – The Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission voted to approve the acquisition of Springwood Ranch in an effort to save declining salmon populations and secure water supplies.

The Friday decision, made possible by $24 million that the state set aside in the capital budget, followed a presentation from the Washington Department of Wish & Wildlife on the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and its Water Storage Goal.

Mike Livingston, WDFW Region 3 director, said the basin is home to around 360,000 people and supports an agricultural economy of roughly $4.5 billion.

The area is second only to the Snake River in supporting Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead runs, Livingston said, which have dropped from a historic 800,000 to around 20,000 as a state over the past ten to fifteen years.

He said the Yakima Basin’s water supply is unreliable. Snowpacks are declining, and the basin is over-appropriated, meaning there are more users and demands than it can handle during drought years.

“Last year, we had a drought. This year, we have a drought,” Livingston said. “Our irrigators … have been informed that they are going to get 63% of their typical water this year.”

He said that the Springwood Ranch acquisition could help secure snowpack runoff for agriculture and when juvenile salmon begin their race to the ocean.

Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW Lands Division manager, said the 3,600-acre Springwood Ranch, between Interstate 90 and the Yakima River, would be split between four owners: WDFW, Yakima Nation, Kittitas County and Kittitas Reclamation District.

“Springwood Ranch’s location, topography and geology make it the single best location in the upper Yakima basin for a multi-benefit water storage facility,” Wilkerson said, “while also protecting fish and wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and continued farming of arable acres.”

She said Kittitas County will own and manage the southern portion of the property dedicated to ongoing working land agriculture, and the Kittitas Reclamation District will oversee the area devoted to constructing a water supply reservoir for the basin.

Wilkerson said the Yakima Nation will own and manage a portion of the land with respect to its cultural resource value, and the WDFW will own a portion dedicated to public use and benefit.

Together, the WDFW and Yakima Nation will co-own around 1,166 acres for joint benefits, she said.