Most of the year, the lower Yakima River is fed by snowmelt and the reservoirs on the Cle Elum, Yakima, and Bumping Rivers. The reservoir releases keep the river levels high during the growing season for the lower Yakima Valley. In late August, salmon begin to spawn in the upper reaches of the Yakima River basin. If the dam releases continued, the fish would lay their eggs in places that would dry up in winter. To encourage the fish to lay eggs in better areas, the dam releases from the higher reservoirs are lowered, and the Tieton is used to provide water for the farms. This known as the flip-flop.
Starting in late August, the Tieton flow starts ramping up, and by Labor Day weekend, there is enough water for kayaks and small rafts. The flows continue to ramp up until the middle of the month, and then begin to fall. Boatable flows can go into early October. There are fluctuations due to need, so you can’t count on this pattern, but it has been pretty consistent in the last couple of decades.
The most up to date gauge for the Tieton can be found here: http://www.usbr.gov/pn-bin/graphrt.pl?rim_q
The main page for the Yakima Valley is here: http://www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/yakima/yaktea.html
This page has more information, but it is not up to date. The flows are an average of the flow for the 24-hour period before the graph was made, and it is only made once a day. This can mean that the page shows a significantly higher or lower flow than the actual flow.
The notes page, which contains information on planned changes to the flows, is here: http://www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/yakima/yakstats.html
You can call the ranger station or the dam, and they will happily tell you the same thing that the notes page says.
Some notes on the Tieton:
- Camping is a free-for-all. WRRR has a traditional area, but we don’t own it, so don’t expect privacy or exclusivity.
- When picking a camp site, ask around to find out how noisy people expect to be. A number of groups like to party all night long. Hause Creek Campground is closed for 2016, so expect a little more crowding in camp this year.
- WRRR provides outhouses and a dumpster. Take your recyclables home, and help us keep the area and the outhouses clean.
- You need a Discover Pass for the takeout parking.
- At the takeout, get your boat off the river and out of the way as soon as possible. Be considerate of other boaters.
- It is worth the trouble to go to an upper put-in at least once. The extra couple of miles of whitewater is great!
- The rebar was removed from the dam years ago, so it isn’t going to rip your boat. However, the right side of the dam is higher and steeper and more dangerous. Your best run is just left of center. Run far left if you like slamming into walls and flipping.
- The rapids are class III, but the run is harder than class III. Always wear a PFD and please wear a helmet.
- Make sure to smile when RiverBooty takes your picture at High Noon and Waffle Wall.