Cantwell Calls for Bold 21st Century Solutions to Drought Crisis

Secures Agreement from the Department of the Interior on Next Steps for Yakima Basin Project

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on federal agencies to work cooperatively with state and local governments on innovative water management solutions to address rapidly changing conditions. 

Cantwell called on federal and state governments to work together on issues such as:

•         Better collaboration on managing water for summer streamflows,

•         Storage plans to ensure that water lasts longer into the season, and

•         Water conservation programs for farms, municipalities, and homes.

“These challenges will only intensify in the coming years.  These drought conditions are the new normal; we need fresh approaches to better address these conditions and to prevent imminent economic losses,” Cantwell said. “Federal agencies must work closely with states and local communities on innovative programs that address these issues, before they reach the crisis point.”

Cantwell proposed four areas of focus for dealing with drought: more collaborative water-sharing agreements, more flexibility in operations, leveraging science and technology more in decision-making and in maximizing efficiencies, and better planning for the future as opposed to only reacting to emergencies.

“Key to the successful implementation of emergency drought response in Washington is the work we have done actively developing collaborative partnerships in many of the key watersheds in the state such as the Yakima, the Walla Walla, and the Dungeness. In the Yakima basin, partners have developed leasing arrangements to share water among irrigation districts and provide water for stream flow while land lies fallow. In addition, all parties, including the Yakama Tribe, have agreed to a flexible approach for mitigation when drought wells are in operation rather than having the full amount of mitigation water up front and in play when the wells are turned on,” Tom Loranger, of the Washington State Department of Ecology said.

Cantwell asked Mike Connor, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, to commit to the next steps of the Yakima Basin Project, such as the Kachess reservoir project and additional fish ladders.

“I do see those as the logical next steps moving forward with the comprehensive plan to address water supply issues.  [The Yakima Basin Project] represents a very good strategy,” Connor said.  “It has as broad as support as you can get.  These upfront investments do help head off shortages and offer the relief measures that are needed.”

Watch the archived webcast here and read the senator’s full statement here.