Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview,  Washington State

Glenn Grette: Permitting and Fish-Friendly Design in the Pacific Northwest

In central Washington, state and federal regulations protect several species of endangered salmon and steelhead. Grette Associates helps clients solve permitting issues related to fisheries ecology, habitat restoration and mitigation, impact assessment, study design, and environmental documentation. Irrigation Leader spoke with company principal and senior fisheries biologist Glenn Grette on his company’s work, including its recent collaboration with the Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) on the Yakima River. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. 

Glenn Grette: I am trained as a fisheries biologist, and I received my master’s degree from the University of Washington. I started consulting in the early 1980s and eventually became a principal of an environmental consulting firm in central Washington. In 2002, I started Grette Associates in Wenatchee and in Tacoma on Puget Sound. We are a small company with an experienced staff of 15, and several have been with the company since its inception. 

I have more than 35 years of experience working on salmon habitat issues in estuarine, marine, and freshwater environments. I have worked for numerous public port districts and other industrial clients that have a long-term interest in fish issues because they develop and maintain shipping facilities in Puget Sound and on the lower Columbia River. Our company does a lot of complex permitting work, and we have a strong technical background that helps us support the resolution of issues that arise during permitting. In central Washington, we have a lot of projects on the Columbia River and its tributaries. We help private and public clients get permits for projects in or adjacent to water, and we specialize in aquatic habitat and wetlands issues. Our experience with large-scale and difficult projects in western Washington and Oregon has shaped our ability to support clients in challenging water supply issues in central Washington. Our experience with central Washington ecosystems provides a strong technical basis for win/win solutions for varied stakeholders. 

Irrigation Leader: You talked about your permitting work. What does that look like in practice? 

Glenn Grette: In the Northwest, if your project is in or at the edge of a river, particularly one that supports salmon or steelhead, you are subject to the requirements of numerous federal, state, and local regulations. It becomes quite a challenge to get through the tangle of overlapping permitting processes and come up with a good solution. We conduct studies, coordinate with agencies to develop solutions, and then prepare permit applications and supporting documentation that address potential impacts and mitigating measures. We also develop conceptual designs of habitat-mitigation projects to offset impacts. We support engineers and contractors through the final design and construction of these habitats. 

Irrigation Leader: What are the most difficult or unexpected requirements your clients generally have to deal with? 

Glenn Grette: The biggest challenge for clients is understanding that projects with the potential to affect fish habitat take quite a bit of time to permit. Federal, state, and local agencies have a heavy workload and stringent requirements for permit issuance. You must wait for the process to run its course, and nobody likes to wait. And you can’t always do everything at once. Sometimes, you need to get one approval before the next can be issued. 

One of the difficult aspects is the consultation with the federal government for any species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Here in the Northwest, we have a multitude of salmon and steelhead populations that are under the protection of the ESA. Both the potential of the project to directly modify aquatic habitat and the construction methods used in it are heavily scrutinized and subject to approval and mitigation measures. Even a common construction technique might have the potential to affect fish. For example, driving pilings in the water to support a structure has the potential to harm fish. During the process, we identify those risks and propose measures to mitigate them. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your work for KID. Is that project part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (YBIP)?

Glenn Grette: KID is active in the implementation of the YBIP. To provide some background, the Yakima River basin covers over 6,000 square miles and has over 370,000 residents, including 11,000 members of the Yakama Nation. It is a top agricultural and outdoor recreation region, supporting over 14,000 jobs. After years of water rights conflicts and steep declines in fish runs, Congress authorized the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Program (YRBWEP) in 1979 to address water supply issues. Congress authorized additional phases to build fish screens and ladders at diversions and to implement water conservation measures for agriculture and instream flows. But conflicts over water supply and solutions persisted. In 2009, a diverse group of interests in the basin came together with a desire to build a framework for resource management and to put long-standing conflicts over water and fisheries behind them. Congress approved the initiative, and the YBIP was born: a common-sense, pragmatic and collaborative approach to addressing problems in the basin. The YRBWEP workgroup provides policy and project development consultation on the implementation of the YBIP. The workgroup includes representatives from the Yakama Nation, federal agencies, state agencies, irrigation districts, cities, and citizens working to improve water supply, water use efficiency, and resilience to climate change while supporting the regional economy and restoring and sustaining the ecosystem,

The process on the Yakima River is unique in Washington. The surface water rights in the basin have been fully adjudicated, and the pain of that is what led to the YBIP. We are helping KID to look at how its operations can support the goals of the YBIP, particularly in terms of improving fish habitat and reducing mortality at diversion structures. KID has begun the permitting process for implementing an off-channel water storage project in the lower portion of the basin. The downstream location of the storage project will allow KID the operational flexibility to maintain a reliable irrigation water supply and to look for opportunities to support fish. We are looking at how the operational flexibility enabled by new storage might improve fish survival and habitat while not diminishing its function for the district’s irrigation needs. This storage project is not an official element of the YBIP and is being funded directly by KID, but it is being designed with review and input from plan stakeholders, particularly the Yakama Nation, and one of its priorities is supporting the goals of the YBIP.

Irrigation Leader: Have you done other work with irrigation districts?

Glenn Grette: We have worked over the years to support irrigation districts on or near the Wenatchee River, the next major Columbia River tributary upstream of the Yakima River. For example, the Stemilt irrigation intake on the Columbia River near Malaga provides water to three irrigation districts—Wenatchee Heights Irrigation District, Stemilt Irrigation District, and Lower Stemilt Irrigation District—that irrigate nearly 2,000 acres of fruit trees. Several years ago, because of damage at Wanapum Dam downstream, the water level on the Columbia River unexpectedly had to be reduced to a level that prevented the intake from operating. We permitted two new 36‑inch HDPE pipes with fish screens to extend horizontally 125 feet to a greater depth to allow operation at all water levels. 

We also worked with the Pioneer Irrigation District and Trout Unlimited on the Wenatchee River to move the point of diversion of a Pioneer ditch and to remove an old diversion dam. The project involved decommissioning the entire open ditch and replacing it with a pressurized system. This reduced the diversion flow range from 11–15 cubic feet per second to 3–7; we also relocated the point of diversion about 5 miles downstream. Both of those changes benefited salmon and steelhead habitat. These changes not only increased flows downriver from the diversion but entirely eliminated the need to divert water in the 5‑mile stretch between the old and new diversion points. 

Irrigation Leader: What should irrigation districts and other water users know about your company?

Glenn Grette: We have a good reputation for working through and resolving challenging issues with multiple stakeholders. 

Irrigation Leader: What is your vision for the future?

Glenn Grette: The vision for my company is to continue to work on these sorts of challenging management issues, particularly at a watershed scale. As part of this direction, we have recently increased our services in upland habitats as local regulation has focused more attention on upland wildlife habitat. 

Glenn Grette is company principal and senior fisheries biologist at Grette Associates. He can be contacted at (509) 6696374 or glenng@gretteassociates.com.