Yakima Basin water plan becomes law
OLYMPIA — As state legislators wrapped up their second special session, they approved a bill to make more water resources available in Central Washington during droughts.
All but two legislators voted in favor of the final version of Senate Bill 5367, which was delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee on June 29. Spokeswoman Jamie Smith said he signed the bill into law June 30.
“The Yakima Basin has repeatedly suffered droughts that not only deprive the region of water, but drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy of Central Washington,” Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, primary sponsor of the bill, said. “This bill will not only help to prevent those economic disasters in the future, but has the added benefit of improving the natural habitat for salmon in the upper reaches of the Yakima River. It’s a great example of a win-win bill.”
Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, who sponsored a companion measure in the House companion measure, said, “Moving this legislation forward is essential for our state. … Washington has less water storage capacity than other Western states. More effective water management will better prepare our state for a serious drought.”
The measure implements the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, which was developed by by the U.S. Department of Reclamation and the Washington State Department of Ecology with consensus among the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, environmental organizations and federal, state, county and city governments.
The Integrated Plan includes seven elements:
* Fish passage.
* Structural and operational changes.
* Surface water storage.
* Groundwater storage.
* Habitat protection and enhancement.
* Enhanced water conservation.
* Market-based water reallocation.
Actions proposed in the plan, to be carried out over a period of up to 30 years, will cost about $4 billion to complete. Senate amendments specify that half the cost must be borne by non-state sources and that a cost-benefit analysis by the Washington Water Resource Center is required for any component costing more than $100 million
The Yakima River starts in the Cascade Range and flows 214 miles into the Columbia River, draining 6,150 square miles. Much of the land is in irrigated agriculture, including pastures, orchards, grapes, hops and field crops.
The basin has experienced repeated droughts, which have depleted water supplies needed for crop production, salmon and municipal and domestic purposes. The goal of the plan is to enhance stream flows for salmon, open passage above existing reservoirs to fish, provide junior agricultural water right holders with at least 70 percent of normal water supply in drought years, purchase lands in upper reaches for restoration of fish and wildlife habitat and for other, multiple uses.
Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, pointed out that existing water rights would be specifically protected from impairment by any water appropriations resulting from the bill.
Also, the Integrated Plan does not create a shortcut to any process. An Environmental Impact Statement will still be required before moving forward on the projects.
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