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Newhouse, Reichert Introduce Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Legislation

March 3, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced legislation to authorize a key phase of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, an initiative to better accommodate the water needs of the agricultural community, conservationists, residents, and other stakeholders in the Yakima River Basin region. Reps. Reichert and Newhouse made the following statements after introducing the bill:

“After years of conversations, I am proud that we have finally come together on a forward-thinking plan that will work to protect the future economic health of the Yakima Basin and the surrounding regions,” said Rep. Reichert. “Implementing this plan will give agricultural producers the confidence they need to continue operating and expanding in the area, while respecting the concerns of conservationists and local residents. I look forward to working further with Congressman Newhouse in urging our colleagues to move this legislation through Congress and to the President’s desk as quickly as possible. ”

“I am proud to join with my colleague Congressman Reichert in this long-anticipated step forward for the Yakima Basin Plan as a national model for collaborative water infrastructure planning,” said Rep. Newhouse. “Meeting existing human and environmental needs requires updating current water supply infrastructure. In the Yakima Basin, agriculture communities have seen and felt the devastating impact of water shortages and drought conditions as water has become increasingly scarce. This legislation will improve water infrastructure, storage, and conservation, as well as the reliability of our water supply for irrigation and other out-of-stream uses. This will all be done in concert with rebuilding fish runs, improving stream flows, and protecting headwater areas. From farming and ranching, to manufacturing and municipal uses, to recreation and wildfire response, a reliable supply of water is an indispensable resource in the West. Now is the time to take collaborative action to secure resilient water supplies for our future and generations to come.”

Background:

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.