Yakima Water Plan Bill Approved By U.S. Senate Committee

By:  Courtney Flatt
Source: Northwest Public Radio

A plan to ensure there’s plenty of water for the Yakima Valley is one step closer to moving forward. A bill that aims to bring drought relief to the agricultural area would provide federal funding for water projects. But not everyone is on board.

As a warming climate reduces mountain snow pack, less water will flow through Washington’s rivers and streams. That could spell trouble for farmers, fish, and everyone who relies on irrigation in the central Washington desert.

A group of stakeholders has proposed a plan that would enlarge reservoirs, create fish passage, and ensure irrigation for area farmers.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has co-sponsored a bill that would authorize the first phase of the plan and would provide $92 million in federal funding over 10 years.

“Acting now on this legislation is critical, and I think it sets a tone for how to get larger water projects done in the West in general,” Cantwell said during the hearing.

After citizen groups raised concerns about the original bill introduced in July, Cantwell amended the bill to emphasize water conservation measures and opportunities for public scrutiny of parts of the plan, including several reservoir projects.

A growing number of conservation organizations and homeowners oppose the Yakima water plan. They say they’re concerned about its costs and impacts to the environment and threatened species.

"While it is encouraging that attention is being given to water issues within the Yakima Valley, this latest version of S. 1694 continues to support what could continue to be the full gamut of elements of the highly controversial and deeply flawed plan,” said Chris Maykut, Friends of Bumping Lake president, in a news release. “Proposed surface water storage projects have been shown in non-biased studies to be major money losers for Washington taxpayers, and there are numerous other forward-thinking solutions that don't involve destruction of ecosystems or private property."