Senate passes Yakima water bill

By:  Jesse Major
Source: Ellensburg Daily Record

A bill authorizing the initial development phase of the Yakima Basin integrated water management plan passed in the U.S. Senate today with bipartisan support.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., would authorize a long-term plan for providing drought relief for farmers and communities, enhancing municipal, industrial and domestic water supplies, conserving 85,000 acre-feet of water and restoring ecosystems and fisheries throughout the Yakima River Basin.

It would authorize federal participation in the Lake Cle Elum pool raise and aquifer storage and recovery studies, both funded through federal-state cost sharing, and the Lake Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant and Keechelus to Kachess Conveyance, which are funded through private financing.

The legislation was attached to the Energy Policy Modernization Act on Tuesday, before the Senate passed the energy bill today.
Cantwell sponsored the legislation, which was passed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in November.

Until last week, the legislation had stalled in the Senate due to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and other issues.

"Our senators were able to work out those differences and get the holds lifted on the bill," Eberhart said.

A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., in March.

Lawmakers will need to sort out the differences in the bills.

Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell said last year's drought and this year's record breaking temperatures show that the basin needs to plan for climate change.

"Last year we saw ... what impacts a severe drought can have on our county, not just economically, but environmentally," he said. "This is a plan to provide those assurances and securities for future generations."

Tom Tebb, director of the Office of Columbia River with the Washington Department of Ecology, said the bill will help construct fish passage at reservoirs, improve streamflows and bolster water supplies for one the country’s top agricultural regions.

“This act is essential as we build on the success we’ve already achieved in the Yakima Basin to assure water security in times of drought and to prepare for climate change,” he said in prepared statement.