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Committee Approves Newhouse Legislation to Streamline Water Projects, Authorize Key Phase of Yakima Basin Integrated Plan

May 16, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA) released the following statement on the House Committee on Natural Resources’ approval in a markup of legislation he introduced, H.R. 4419, the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Project Streamlining Act. Rep. Newhouse’s legislation would streamline the Bureau of Reclamation’s and Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental planning and study process for new water projects and authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

“I am grateful to Chairman Bishop and my colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee for approving my legislation on a bipartisan basis to streamline Bureau of Reclamation and Indian Affairs’ water projects and authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Project,” said Rep. Newhouse. “The Yakima Basin Plan not only provides vital water resources for the current and future growth of the area’s economy, but it is also a national model for such projects. Gaining the support of a diverse group of stakeholders that includes the agriculture community, conservationists, and residents is never easy, but the Yakima Basin Plan continues to do just that. Approval in committee is a crucial step, and I will continue to work with House leadership on a vote in the full House.”

“The National Water Resources Association and water users throughout the West appreciate Chairman Bishop’s and Congressman Newhouse’s efforts to enhance our nation’s water infrastructure,” said Ron Thompson, President, National Water Resources Association. “By improving the regulatory process associated with water infrastructure development, they will help ensure that future generations have access to a safe, affordable, and reliable water supply.”

“If we don’t find a way to restore water supply reliability for Western irrigated agriculture through a combination of new infrastructure and other supply enhancement efforts, our country’s ability to feed and clothe itself and the world will be jeopardized,” said Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance. “This bill takes an important step towards addressing potential barriers to allowing the federal government to again be a partner with local and state entities in addressing these important water supply issues.”

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Background:

The Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act requires the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to accelerate studies and provide more accountability in the agency’s process to study the feasibility of new and or expanded surface water storage. The legislation would provide the same streamlined water project development process for BOR and BIA surface water storage projects that the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014” (WRRDA) gave to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The goal of the legislation is to reform the current cumbersome, lengthy process so that there is a mechanism to build new surface water storage projects in the West.

The bill is designed to speed up BOR’s and BIA’s feasibility study process on surface water storage that “would be owned, funded, or operated” by the agency.  The legislation also requires reporting and transparency requirements to provide agency justifications on why feasibility studies are not being completed in a timely manner. The bill closely resembles provisions included in WRRDA. The conference report for WRRDA, which includes nearly identical provisions for the Corps, passed both Houses in the 113th Congress (by a vote of 412-4 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate).

Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project:

In the 114th Congress, similar legislation authorizing the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III (H.R. 4686) introduced by Rep. Reichert and Rep. Newhouse ran into an earmark issue in the House. This revised legislation allows authorization of the Yakima Basin project consistent with the House rules.

The Yakima River Basin is one of the leading agricultural regions in Washington State and throughout the country. The orchardists, wine grape growers, and other members of the agricultural community inject approximately $3.2 billion into Washington’s economy and support countless jobs in the area. However, the demand for water in the region currently exceeds the resources available, especially during times of drought, which have hit the state especially hard in the past few years. As a result, water use has been restricted for junior water rights holders - or individuals who obtained water rights in 1905 or later – during times of shortages.

With researchers predicting that drought seasons will only become more common and get worse as snowpack in the mountains continues to decline, action needs to be taken so that stakeholders in the Yakima Basin can continue operating without having to worry about whether or not they will be able to water their crops or their backyard garden. As the nation has seen with extreme water problems in California, we must be proactive and have a viable plan in place should intense drought hit Washington.

After years of tough negotiations, the Yakima River Basin Plan offers a solution that will give water users more certainty, while also recognizing the concerns of conservationists and the various stakeholders in the Yakima Basin.

Specifically, the Yakima River Basin Plan would:

  • Provide greater water supply reliability for farmers and communities.
  • Secure the water that communities need to meet current and future demand.
  • Protect over 200,000 acres of currently unprotected forest, shrub steppe, and river habitat.
  • Enhance habitat along the Yakima River and its tributaries.
  • Implement water marketing and banking so that water is more easily delivered when and where needed.
  • Build fish passage to allow salmon, steelhead, and bull trout to travel throughout the basin.

Additional bill highlights:

  • Requires future Reclamation feasibility studies to be completed with three years after the date of initiation and have a maximum federal cost of $3 million. The bill provides for a maximum seven year extension of that time and cost if the Interior Secretary provides a detailed justification to the non-federal project sponsor and the Congress. 
  • Requires the Interior Secretary to expedite the completion of any ongoing feasibility studies initiated before the date of enactment. If the Secretary determines that the project is justified in a completed report, he/she shall proceed to proceed to pre-construction planning, engineering and design of the project.
  • Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process with Reclamation and the non-federal project sponsor as lead agencies for expedited environmental review of a project. The bill further directs the lead agencies to establish a schedule for completion of a study and lays out financial penalties to the Interior Secretary if timelines are not met.
  • Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and submit a report to the relevant committees in Congress that identifies project report, proposed project and proposed modifications to studies and federal and non-federal cost estimates for all three. These activities would be similar to the feasibility studies listed in Section 7002 of P.L. 113-121, which authorized construction of projects by Congress. 
  • The legislation additionally authorizes the following projects:
    • Equus Beds Division of the Wichita Project – Kansas
    • Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System - Montana