Yakima irrigators must look to future
By BRUCE CHANDLER
For the Capital Press
For years, we have known that Washington state is behind in its water storage options. We know the Yakima Basin will need significantly more water to protect our future. Though we still have a long way to go to ensure long-term growth for the Yakima Basin, a plan moving through the state Legislature is an important next step.
The five reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin hold 1 million acre-feet of water, which provides just three months of storage. When snowpack, which is called the "sixth reservoir," is less than expected, junior water rights holders, which includes several municipalities, are at risk. Meanwhile, other states in the West have multiple years of storage. Drought is more devastating here than many other places in the country. Many remember the droughts of 1992, 1993, 1994, 2001 and 2005.
Mark Twain said, "whisky is for drinking, but water is for fighting." Fortunately, the fighting has come to a compromise in the Yakima Basin and we have a solution most can agree on. Tribes, the federal government, counties, state agencies, irrigation districts and environmental groups came together and formed an integrated plan. The plan includes "something for everyone" in the form of seven different elements that must move forward simultaneously.
It's estimated the combination of watershed enhancement, surface storage, habitat improvements, enhanced conservation, groundwater storage, market reallocation and structural changes will provide an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water for municipal and domestic use. This will improve water supplies for water-short irrigation districts and junior water rights holders during a drought. It's not perfect, but it is an important next step in meeting the municipal, environmental and residential water needs for our future generations.
Recently, our new governor joined in support of the legislation. This is a good indicator of the plan's chance in the volatile environment of the Legislature.
Next, the workgroup will be making a capital budget request of the Legislature. Our state can't afford not to adopt the plan and make the investment. Federal authorization and funding are also in the works.
It's time we move forward with an integrated plan to ensure the viability and sustainability of agriculture both now and into the future.
Rep. Bruce Chandler is an orchardist from Granger, Wash., and has served in the Legislature since 1999.
He is the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, as well as the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders Association.