Overlapping the states of Washington and Oregon, the Walla Walla basin is a complex watershed struggling to meet water needs for rural and urban growth and to maintain sufficient instream flows for fish.
The Walla Walla River flows from its headwaters in the mountains of Oregon, through Washington where it converges with the Columbia River near Wallula. Water availability for people, farms, and fish is a problem in the basin, particularly in the summer when demand is the highest.
Over the past decade, the Walla Walla Management Partnership developed local water plans and water banking agreements to protect more than 20,500 acre-feet of water rights from “use it or lose it” relinquishment. The group also worked with stakeholders across the border, including Oregon’s Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council, to examine big-picture water resource issues and preserve streamflows at crucial times of the year.
Still, the projects have not adequately achieved streamflow goals, and aquifers continue to decline, according to a 2018 report to the Legislature.
In 2019, the Washington Legislature tasked the Walla Walla Management Partnership and Ecology to collaboratively develop a 30-year strategic plan for water management in the Walla Walla Basin. Together with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and stakeholders on both sides of the state border, the partners began this process, dubbed Walla Walla Water 2050, later that year. They released a draft strategic plan for public comment in May 2021. The final Walla Walla Water 2050 Strategic Plan was released in June 2021.