TNC scientists measure stream temperature in the Central Cascades to land use effects on ecosystem health. Photo by Zoe van Duivenbode.
All Internal Rights. Aerial view of Skagit County's Fir Island farms and floodplains, with the Cascade Mountains in the background. © Marlin Greene/One Earth Images

Healthy forests, healthy farms

Restoration for the headwaters that feed the Yakima Valley

We owe much to our trees: Washington’s expansive forests provide water, wood, and jobs. In the Central Cascades, they sustain a watershed that feeds an agricultural treasure. The Yakima Valley’s farming legacy stretches back 150 years, and today yields rich crops of cherries, peaches, apples, wine grapes and hops—75 percent of the nation’s hops, in fact.

But the Yakima River is suffering. Increased demands coupled with a changing climate are sapping this vital resource. In 2015, Washington suffered one of its worst droughts ever, with record-low snowpack to sustain the river.

The good news is that there is water waiting to be found. There is water tied up in evapotranspiration—the process by which water is transferred to the atmosphere from plants. Young, overstocked forests (like many of those in Washington) transpire more water, highlighting how vital forest restoration can be. There is also greater capacity for water storage within the hyporheic (groundwater) zone beneath floodplains, waiting to be recharged with restoration.

In the Cascades, we’re protecting and restoring thousands of acres of forest, miles of rivers and streams, and the headwaters of the Yakima River. We value a healthy forest for farmers, communities, locavores—and beer lovers. Downstream, where freshwater meets salt, we’re restoring floodplains in partnership with farmers. This natural climate solution is a powerful buffer from flooding and rising seas, which threaten farmers and their families throughout Washington’s fertile river-fed valleys.

As we design and implement our Washington conservation programs, it’s crucial to remember that we cannot ensure thriving communities and thriving nature without water for both.