Yakima County receives grant to remove Nelson Dam, reduce flood - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Yakima County receives grant to remove Nelson Dam, reduce flood risk

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12/01/16 UPDATE: 

YAKIMA, WA - It's been a long time coming, and finally Yakima County has enough funds for the multi-million dollar removal of an outdated dam.

The Nelson Water dam of off South Naches Road has been in Yakima since the 1920's, but come next year that will change, as the old dam will be removed thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Open Rivers Fund.

"We knew the dam was getting to the point where it was going to fail at some point, so we are being proactive about that," said David Brown, Water and Irrigation Manager for the city of Yakima. "We want to get it replaced so that it doesn't fall apart during the middle of the summer when we are trying to get our customers irrigation water."

The removal of the dam has been in the works for years, gathering support from the city, the county, and Yakama Nation.

The removal of the dam will provide many benefits for our area, including better passage for fish, a reduction in flood hazard, better water pressure for land owners, and reduction in maintenance costs.

"There will be a lot less maintenance and it will be a much more maintainable facility," says Joel Freudenthal, Senior Natural Resource Specialist for Yakima County, "so there [are] benefits all the way around."

The dam will not only be removed, but will also be replaced, because a dam is necessary in the area.

"It's a replacement structure," said Brown. "We still have a need to take water there, that gives irrigation water to the irrigation customers in Yakima and we still need that water."

The removal of the dam is scheduled to start in the fall of 2017.


YAKIMA, WA -  Today, Yakima County announced it is the recipient of a $75,000 grant from the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund (RLF), supported by a 50th anniversary grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 

The funds will assist with the removal of the Nelson Dam, an 8-foot high irrigation diversion dam owned by the City of Yakima on the Naches River. The Naches is an important salmon bearing river that is the largest tributary of the Yakima River. Sediment has built up for several miles behind Nelson Dam, exacerbating flooding in the area upstream from businesses, homes and roads. Removing Nelson Dam is an essential part of a plan to greatly reduce flood risks and improve public safety during floods.

“Removal of the Nelson Dam is part of a complex plan to improve fish passage, reduce operations expense for the several diversions, expand the flood plain to reduce the flood damage and risk to public safety and improve the salmon habitat,” said Joel Freudenthal, Senior Natural Resources Specialist for Yakima County. “The City and the County are incredibly grateful to collaborate with the Open Rivers Fund to move this plan forward and see it through to fruition.”

Once removed, the dam will be replaced with a roughened channel that allows the City to divert irrigation water at lower operations and maintenance costs. Fish will be able to freely pass upstream and downstream at all water levels, something the existing Nelson Dam does not accommodate. Reestablishing sediment transport will improve about 6 miles of floodplain and river habitat upstream and downstream of the dam in an area that is important for fishery spawning and rearing.

“Removal of the Nelson Dam and replacing it with a roughened channel will address an important safety concern for our community,” said David Brown, City of Yakima Water/Irrigation Manager. “When we have opportunities like this one to improve the safety of our community and benefit the environment while saving taxpayer dollars, it just makes sense to pursue.” 

“Removing the barrier to fish passage at Nelson Dam is an important part of the Yakama Nation's work to restore abundant salmon and steelhead to the Naches and Yakima Rivers,” said Phil Rigdon, Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director for the Yakama Nation. “The project will also greatly improve habitat up and downstream of the dam.”