Gov. Jay Inslee launched his administration’s first piece of legislation Thursday, tying in his campaign promise to emphasize job growth with a plan to solidify water resources and environmental protection in the Yakima River Basin.
The governor’s request bill, introduced in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis, directs the Department of Ecology to implement the ambitious basin water resource management plan. The plan seeks as much as $5 billion in federal, state and local funds to add storage, restore fish runs, conserve water and improve environmental protection.
Inslee, during a news conference at his Olympia office, called the measure a “sweet spot” in his jobs agenda.
“This is a very concrete and specific proposal to bolster the foundation of the agricultural economy in Central Washington and this is a huge part of our economy,” Inslee said. “Agriculture depends on water, and water depends on this bill’s ultimate passage.”
The measure is the same one on which the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee conducted a hearing earlier this week. This new bill is different only in that it is labeled a governor’s request bill. Inslee called it his “Water, Jobs and Fish” bill.
The bill authorizes the Ecology Department to move forward on the basin water resource management plan, which includes additional reservoir storage at Bumping Lake and at Wymer in the Yakima River Canyon, fish ladders at all five basin storage dams, improved fish habitat, more water conservation, and purchase of private land to improve fish runs and protect the watershed that supplies irrigation water in the three-county basin.
Expanding Bumping Lake, northwest of Yakima, from 33,000 acre-feet to 190,000 acre-feet and creation of the 160,000 acre-foot Wymer reservoir on Lmuma Creek, north of Yakima, have been the controversial parts of the plan. Environmental groups that oppose the plan say the reservoirs are environmentally damaging, unnecessary projects. The new Bumping Lake would inundate old-growth timber, habitat for endangered species.
But other environmental groups support the measure because it provides for fish and protects important timberland east of Cle Elum and shrub steppe habitats in the river canyon.
Inslee noted the bill is not without some controversy. But he said the threat of climate change with the projected reduction in snowpack requires that action be taken. The intensively irrigated basin relies on winter snow to provide water for crops through the early summer before storage water is released.
“There are costs to this bill. One thing to consider is we will lose some timberlands as we expand storage. None of us want to see that, but we have to make some hard decisions to deal with this monster of climate change, create jobs and add salmon rearing habitat. This bill will do all three of those,” Inslee said.
State Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, a local co-sponsor of the bill along with Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, expressed optimism the bill will become law because of its broad support from a variety of groups.
“When you have the tribes, environmentalists, the people concerned about fish, and farmers all together with the counties and cities saying they support this bill, that is a big deal,” she said.
A stakeholder group representing those interests crafted the plan during more than two years of work that was coordinated by the Ecology Department and the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Already before the Legislature is former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s capital budget request that seeks more than $20 million over the next two years as the state’s down payment to start implementing the integrated plan. Inslee said he will carry that request forward.
The state commitment is seen as bolstering efforts to obtain federal funding for the majority of the cost over the next 30 years.
A policy brief that Inslee’s office issued said the state’s expenditures will create 316 new jobs and have a $43 million economic impact.
The measure is the first of what Inslee said will be a number of jobs-related bills he will introduce this session dealing with bolstering imports, growing tourism and expanding education and training programs.
A companion measure to the basin water bill is expected to be introduced in the state Senate today.
The House bill is HB1414.
• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.