The Yakima River basin, in south-central Washington, is the largest single river system entirely within the confines of the State. Its waters are the most extensively utilized of all the rivers in Washington.
The river heads high on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, flows for 180 miles in a generally southeast direction, and discharges into the Columbia River. The western part of the basin is a mountainous area formed by sedimentary, volcanic, and metamorphic rocks, which generally have a low capacity for storing and transmitting water. The eastern part of the basin is. formed by a thick sequence of lava flows that have folded into long ridges and troughs. Downwarped structural basins between many of the ridges are partly filled with younger sedimentary deposits, which at some places are many hundreds of feet thick. The Yakima River flows from structural basin to structural basin through narrow water gaps that have been eroded through the anticlinal ridges. Each basin is also a topographic basin and a ground-water subbasin. A gaging station will measure the total outflow of a drainage area only if it is located at the surface outlet of a ground-water subbasin and then only if the stream basin is nearly coextensive with the ground-water subbasin. Many gaging stations in the Yakima basin are so located. The geology, hydrology, size. and location of 25 ground-water subbasins are described.
Since the settlement of the valley began, the development of the land and water resources have caused progressive changes in the natural regimen of the basin‘s runoff. These changes have resulted from diversion of water from the streams, the application of water on the land for irrigation, the storage and release of flood waters, the pumping of ground water, and other factors Irrigation in the Yakima basin is reported ‘to have begun about 1864. In 1955 about 425,000 acres were under irrigation.
During the past 60-odd years many gaging stations have been operated at different sites within the basin. Only stations in the upper reaches, such as those below Keechelus, Kachess, or Cle Elum Lakes, give discharge records which are an accurate measure of the natural outflow of the drainage area. Farther down, stream, as the utilization of water becomes more extensive, the records at a gaging station show the discharge passing a particular point, but they do not reflect the natural outflow of the basin. Large canals divert water for use on lands above a station or carry it around a station for irrigation downstream. The deep sedimentary deposits within subbasins and the overlying alluvial gravels permit downvalley movement of large subsurface flows which bypass the gaging stations, except in the near vicinity of the water gaps. At the water gaps ground water rises to the surface, becoming streamflow, and can be accurately measured. The location of gaging stations within each subbasin is important, therefore, in determining whether the flow measured represents the total downvalley outflow or whether it is merely the surface-water component. Surface and subsurface factors that may affect the discharge records at each gaging station in the Yakima River basin include a description of upstream diversions, surface return flows, bypass canals, storage reservoirs, subsurface bypass flows, ground-water withdrawals, and other items. The available data are not sufficiently complete to permit a quantitative determination of the total basin yield at most gaging stations. However, data on the existing bypass channels, such as canals and drainage ditches, and on related subsurface movement of water provide valuable information necessary to proper use and interpretation of the streamflow records.