The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a compromise that aims to combine conservation and new storage to ensure a more-reliable water supply for Central Washington, has reached this point through cooperation by a number of stakeholders: agriculture, irrigators, the Yakama Nation, fishing interests, environmental groups, and local, county and state governments.
And now, the federal government — through a congressional act — has taken a giant step toward adding its name to the stakeholder list.
Largely through the efforts of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a $92 million contribution to the effort. The money would pay for feasibility, environmental and community impact studies on pumping water from Lake Kachess. Cantwell sponsored the bill, which authorizes the first 10-year phase of a 30-year project; the money comes on top of $160 million that the state has promised.
The money may seem like a few drops in the bucket — in truth, there is no better metaphor in this instance — of a plan that is estimated to cost $4 billion. But local officials, irrigators and other stakeholders say the bill is a historic step forward for the integrated plan.
The Senate’s overwhelming 85-12 vote in favor recognizes the groundwork laid by the stakeholders in forging a compromise, considered by some to be a dirty word in Washington, D.C., these days. The various interests took part in the requisite give-and-take in crafting a plan that meets the needs of agriculture while respecting the desires of Indian tribes and environmentalists in protecting habitat, especially for migratory fish.
The overwhelming vote sends a strong message to the House; the Senate measure, part of a larger energy bill, must be reconciled with a House energy bill. To that end, 4th District Rep. Dan Newhouse has co-sponsored a similar measure that will begin its process in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Supporters say several months may pass before the measure goes to President Barack Obama.
The Senate’s move is a giant step forward, one that House members need to note. The success of the measure so far speaks to the collaboration of the various stakeholders and the bipartisan cooperation of the state’s congressional delegation. This was indeed good news out of the nation’s capital last week.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.