Legislation calls for long-range look at Yakima River basin water
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Finding solutions to the Yakima River basin's overallocated water supply would be the responsibility of the state Department of Ecology under legislation requested by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The legislation, if passed, does not appropriate funds or authorize any specific plans; it guides policy.
Ecology would develop water supply solutions that benefit both in- and out-of-stream uses. Projects could enhance fish and wildlife resources, improve water availability and reliability, establish more efficient water markets, manage the variability of water supplies and prepare for the uncertainties of climate change.
Specific steps Ecology could take include developing projects consistent with the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan designed to provide access to new water supplies in the basin, entering into contracts that ensure the efficient delivery of water and providing for the design of facilities necessary to implement the plan.
Derek Sandison, director of the Office of Columbia River, said the 6,000-square-mile basin with its half-million irrigated acres feeds $3.2 billion into the state economy every year. Its five reservoirs hold 1 million acre-feet of water, which is one-third of the total runoff into the basin.
Sandison told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development that the region is also subject to frequent droughts, most recently in 1992-94, 2001 and 2005. During those droughts, proratable water districts received as little as 37 percent of their allotments.
Groups speaking in support of the bill included the Wilderness Society, represented by Pacific Northwest regional director Peter Dykstra, who said, "It has something for everyone." He called the approach a "unique unprecedented opportunity to solve the challenges" and a new way of thinking about land water management in Western water basins.
Other outdoors associations in support included Trout Unlimited and the Back Country Horsemen of Washington.
One group opposed is Friends of Bumping Lake. Spokesman Chris Mayket said previous proposals to enlarge the reservoir have shown "31 cents benefit for every dollar spent." Property owners would suffer, and structures have been listed in the national record of historic places.
"We believe in all the goals of the plan," he said, "but destruction of Bumping Lake does not have to be a part of that."
Also, Mayket said, the state would be responsible for half of the total plan's eventual $5 billion price tag.
Charlie De La Chapelle said his Yakima Basin Storage Alliance initially supported the plan, but now opposes it.
"We know Yakima basin water is overallocated. (There's) not enough water for fish, not enough water for ag." The plan needs to include water out of the Columbia River, he said.
Senate Bill 5367's primary sponsor is Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.
House Bill 1414, which is a companion bill to SB5367, is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger. A substitute version, passed by the House ag committee on Jan. 29, clarifies that the rights of the Yakama Nation that are not affected by the bill do not necessarily have to be rights granted by the federal government. It also specifies that the bill does not limit, impair, waive or abrogate existing rights for any parties potentially affected by the bill.