New Drought Projections Released Today – Cantwell Calls for Federal Support of Water Projects, Highlights Work on Yakima Basin Integrated Plan

Cantwell: New drought report shows Pacific Northwest “in the bullseye”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Pacific Northwest continues to experience drought conditions, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, today spoke at a hearing to address water storage and conservation. 

In her remarks, Cantwell underscored the importance of new drought projections released today by the Climate Prediction Center. 

“When you said there’s a lot of hot, dry, and more crowded West, you couldn’t have been talking more specifically about the Pacific Northwest, because that is exactly the way we feel,” Cantwell said. “The most recent seasonal drought map definitely put us in the bullseye, as far as that brown area, and it’s no secret that that then is an overlay to some of the challenges we face in fire season as well.”

She also highlighted ongoing water conservation efforts in the Yakima Basin and talked about different methods of storage, like aquifer recharge, that could be implemented in other areas. 

“You outlined some, like the ‘smart’ water program and things we were able to help integrate into the Yakima Basin program,” Cantwell said. “Why, at least for areas like the Pacific Northwest, shouldn’t we be focusing more on recharge and integrations, holistic integration plans, like we were going to be able to successfully do in Yakima? 

Wesley Hipke, the Recharge Program Manager for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, responded: 

“Absolutely. I’ve been doing managed recharge for over 25 years now, and so I’m a big fan of that,” Hipke said. “We need to be flexible enough to take advantage of it when it’s there.” 

Cantwell emphasized the need for federal support of water programs that prioritize “smart” solutions and cooperation between stakeholders, as well as the need to work holistically to address wildfires and other natural occurrences that can impact ongoing water restoration projects. 

“I also think having robust federal support programs for it, so that people are incented on smart water or on restoration, and you know, doing a better job on coordination,” Cantwell said. “One reason we fought so hard on the fire bill to get new fire funding fixes is because we were doing unbelievable stream restoration work and then we’d have a fire come through and knock it out.” 

Senator Cantwell has long prioritized finding integrated and collaborative approaches to address water availability challenges. Earlier this year, she secured the passage of her legislation to authorize the initial phase of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan, which she first introduced in July 2015 in coordination with a number of local stakeholders including conservation, recreation, agricultural, and municipal leaders, as well as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. 

She has also led efforts in Congress to provide more resources for wildfire fighting and forest management. Last Congress, she secured passage of new funding to fix the chronic failures in wildfire funding that have plagued fire-prone communities across the West. Earlier this year, her legislation to bring critical new technology to wildland firefighters across the country was signed into law, and she has repeatedly called on the Trump administration to reverse proposed cuts to the wildland firefighting budget.