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COLUMN: Water Storage Solutions Needed to Reduce Threat of Drought

March 14, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Hot summers, several years of low snowpack, and the severity of recent drought across the West illustrate the extent to which water is truly the lifeblood of Central Washington and our economy. Unlike the west side of the Cascades, the “rain shadow” effect caused by the mountain ranges keeps Eastern Washington dry, with less than 10 inches of rainfall on average. Communities throughout Central Washington, including employers, manufacturers, agriculture producers, and tribes depend on access to water supplies through irrigation and water infrastructure projects. The water supplied by these projects supports wildlife habitat as well, sustaining native trout and salmon species. As severe drought has shown, water supplies in the Yakima Basin increasingly fall short of meeting the needs of the humans and the environment that depend on them. To meet current needs and to plan for the future, I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to move forward on efforts to improve water infrastructure to mitigate the threat of drought.

Increasing water storage capacity is critical for the Yakima Basin economy, where agriculture production supports thousands of jobs and adds $3.2 billion to our state’s economy. With my colleague, Congressman Dave Reichert, I recently introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would improve and modernize water infrastructure in the Yakima Basin. Our legislation would authorize the third phase of the Yakima Basin Plan, which has been developed over nearly 30 years. I have been involved with this project going back to my time as the Washington State Director of Agriculture, and I have continued those efforts as the representative for the Fourth Congressional District. The Plan is a national model for collaboration that brings local, state, and federal partners together for a common goal: a reliable water supply that meets the needs of people and the environment in the Yakima Valley.

The Plan goals include providing greater water supply reliability for farmers and communities and securing the water that communities need to meet current and future demand. The Plan would promote protection of over 200,000 acres of currently unprotected forest, shrub steppe, and river habitat as well as enhance habitat along the Yakima River and its tributaries. It would implement water marketing and banking so that water is more easily delivered when and where needed, and it would build fish passage to allow salmon, steelhead, and bull trout to travel throughout the basin.

I look forward to continuing this bipartisan, bicameral effort to improve water infrastructure, storage, and conservation, as well as the reliability of our water supply for irrigation and other out-of-stream uses. Now is the time to take collaborative action to secure resilient water supplies for our communities, farmers, and fish for generations to come.