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Newhouse, Schrier Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Authorize Phase III of Yakima Basin Integrated Plan

February 7, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) introduced H.R. 1048, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act. The legislation authorizes Phase III 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.

“The next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is critical for the current needs and future growth of one of the richest agriculture regions in the West,” said Rep. Newhouse. “It also provides a national model of collaboration between members of a diverse group that includes the interests of state and local stakeholders, irrigators, conservationists, tribes, and fish passage. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation in alignment with Senator Maria Cantwell’s effort in the Senate. Working across party lines, we can accomplish this long-held infrastructure priority for Central Washington.”

Rep. Schrier: “The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a critical step towards ensuring Washington State has a reliable water supply for years to come. This approach takes into account the concerns of groups with varying and sometimes conflicting needs and interests, including our farmers, Tribes, and conservationists. Our hope is that this can be a model of collaboration for the rest of the country. I applaud Rep. Newhouse and Sen. Cantwell for their years of work on this important project and am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Rep. Newhouse.”

Scott Revell, District Manager of the Roza Irrigation District: “Irrigated agriculture makes Yakima a top agricultural producer, not only for the state, but the nation. The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan provides a path for our irrigation districts to make it through droughts and low snowpack and support important fisheries. We are doing things differently in the Yakima these days, including having irrigation districts pay for constructing federal water supply infrastructure like the Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant. Thanks to Rep. Newhouse for his hard work.” 

Urban Eberhart, District Manager of the Kittitas Reclamation District: “Federal legislation is essential to the progress of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and Kittitas County.”

Wendy McDermott of American Rivers: “Salmon, steelhead and bull trout in the Yakima basin were nearly wiped out due to the way we historically managed water, but with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, there is a real future for these iconic fish in the Yakima. This helps both people and species like the orca.”

Lisa Pelly of Trout Unlimited: “Thanks to the Congressional delegation representing the Yakima, the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is moving forward. We appreciate Rep. Newhouse working to get this federal bill moving. It’s a great way to start the Congress.”

Phil Rigdon, Deputy Director, Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources: "The Wapato Irrigation Project, located on the Yakama Nation reservation, is in desperate need of infrastructure improvement. This bill will help to improve the irrigation project and allow much more precise use of water, benefiting both salmon and farmers.”

Tom Tebb, Director of the Washington Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River: "For decades we (the state of Washington) have partnered with the Bureau of Reclamation to achieve water security in the Yakima Basin. This federal support is crucial to keeping the momentum going and leverage the state, federal, irrigation, tribal and environmental investments made to date. We couldn’t be more excited."

The legislation is identical to Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) legislation in the Senate. The Cantwell legislation is included in a comprehensive package of land-use and natural resources bills, S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, which is currently on the Senate floor for consideration this week. The legislation is expected to pass the Senate and then be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives.

BACKGROUND:

Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project:

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.