Solving our Water Storage Dilemma in Eastern Washington: Can Beavers Help?
by Brian Walker, Watershed Program Director
Eastern Washington needs more water. Because of climate change, the spring runoff has begun occurring earlier in the year when demand for water is fairly low. This leaves relatively little water in the Columbia River when peak water demand occurs in June, July and August – demand from farmers, residents and salmon needing to swim upstream.
The Washington Department of Ecology was tasked by Governor Gregoire with finding new storage options to meet peak demand needs. Last year, The D.O.E. proposed to construct several massive dams on canyon tributaries to the Columbia River. Specifically, they were looking to build dams at Hawk Creek, Sand Hollow or Crab Creek. These dams would have water pumped up to them in the spring, then released in the summer – but one dam would cost up to $10 billion and flood thousands of acres of farmland and wildlife habitat. The Lands Council submitted written comments to Ecology strongly opposing the potential construction of these dams on ecological and economic grounds.
What can we do to store more water? Are concrete dams the only solution?
The Lands Council is seeking to answer this question by researching a unique alternative – utilizing beavers to build dams to store spring runoff. While this may sound a little far fetched, the principles are sound. In Washington, historic beaver populations numbered in the tens of millions; but, through trapping in the late 1800's, the populations were almost wiped out. Today, it is estimated that there are roughly 50,000 beavers in Washington; a far lower number than the historical levels.
At The Lands Council, we believe that if we can find locations for half a million beavers, we can essentially eliminate the need for additional large dams on the Columbia River. If each beaver constructs a dam that holds back three or four acre feet of water, then the goal that DOE was tasked with will be met. We have received a grant from the Department of Ecology that will allow us to partially fund our research and to begin working with landowners to find locations for beaver reintroduction throughout all of Eastern Washington. This study will not only look at the physical places for beaver dams, but also the social and economic opportunities of water banking and conservation easements. We welcome any ideas or suggestions that will be helpful to this exciting new project.
Please contact Brian at (509) 209-2408, or firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.
More about The Lands Council's Beaver Solution
More on The Lands Council's Water Watch Program