COLUMN: Streamline Water Infrastructure Planning

November 28, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Life on our eastern side of Washington’s so-called “Cascade divide” certainly offers many natural advantages: Less rain, more time spent outdoors in the sunshine, and an ideal climate for apples, wine grapes and many other crops, just to name a few. Communities in Central Washington, and across the West at large, depend heavily on capturing water through surface water infrastructure projects that support our way of life. Water projects such as dams and reservoirs are enormous undertakings that take years of planning and investment, but when completed, they harness water resources to foster economic growth and allow communities to flourish. In order to provide for current needs and future growth, the process for approving surface water storage projects must be modernized to be more transparent and take place within a reasonable timeframe.

If a project is a good idea, then it should be studied thoroughly and efficiently. Projects should be judged on their merits and not delayed by years of studies with no end in sight. Along with my friend and colleague, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), I have introduced H.R. 4419, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Project Streamlining Act, to improve the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental planning and study process for new water projects. This legislation would simply apply the same efficient processes that are now used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to other federal agencies that oversee water infrastructure development. This bill would speed up federal agencies’ feasibility studies and develop a schedule for their completion.

One example of an enormously beneficial project is the Columbia Basin Project, which includes the Grand Coulee Dam. This project provides hydropower, flood control, and 2.5 million acre-feet of water used for farming communities, urban areas, and industry in our state. On a much smaller scale, H.R. 4419 would also approve Phase III of the Yakima Basin Project to provide additional surface water storage to address current shortfalls and provide for future needs. The Yakima Basin is an agricultural powerhouse, but periodic severe drought has led to water restrictions that curtail farmers’ ability to produce.

The Yakima Basin Project is not only necessary for our region, but it is truly a national model of collaboration between conservationists, agriculture, residents, tribes, and other stakeholders. Because these diverse groups have come together to achieve shared goals, the project can become a reality to benefit the agriculture community, residents, and the environment. Not only does it make progress on the Yakima Basin here in Washington; H.R. 4419 would also authorize projects across the nation, such as the Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation (California), the Equus Beds Division of the Wichita Project (Kansas), and the Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System (Montana).

Without water infrastructure projects, life in Central Washington would be starkly different than it is today. Like many communities in the West, our future depends on meeting the water needs of today and proving for the needs of tomorrow.