It’s law, now what?

RECORDING A HISTORIC MOMENT — Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell, center, and Representative Dan Newhouse, right, celebrate the passage of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Work Group and Implementation Committee, Tuesday in Union Gap. Also pictured is (left) Tom Tebb, Director of the Office of Columbia River with the Department of Ecology.

UNION GAP — A long awaited plan to ensure plentiful Yakima River Basin irrigation water during drought years, which also coincides with habitat restoration, is now law.

The Yakima River Enhancement Project Phase III Act passed in the Congress earlier this month and is designed to provide water security in the State’s Cascades watershed.

This phase of the historic integrated Yakima Basin Water Enhancement Project took 10 years of intense negotiations, resulting in agreement between many local, agricultural, environmental, tribal and ecological representatives.

“You had to be working together to make it happen. It’s all about being unified,” U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4) said during a round table discussion on Tuesday, March 19, at the Department of Ecology office.

Newhouse and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who serves as ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, were in town to congratulate Yakima River Basin stakeholders for their patience and determination to find solutions for restoring ecosystems, recreation, municipalities and fisheries.

It is through those efforts, the plan ensures that communities will have access to water and help to extend water supplies to farmers in years of drought, they acknowledged.

“The plan came about because you (pointing to the people in the room) agreed to think outside the box,” Cantwell declared. “You faced the challenges brought on by drought, and instead of fighting it out in court, you came to the table. You didn’t have time for that (court).”

Newhouse and Cantwell joined local water leaders to determine what is next in the future of Yakima Valley Water Bill.

The bill will specifically address the following issues:

• Restore fish passages and habitat restoration projects, enabling the largest Sockeye salmon runs in the United States;

• Ensure federal partnerships for groundwater storage projects and facilitating water marketing and transfers to move water to where it is needed most;

• Help rehabilitate and repair the Wapato Irrigation Project by reauthorizing $75 million in funding allowing the Bureau of Reclamation to contribute funds to the project;

• Extend water supplies for farmers in times of drought through conservation of more than 250,000-acre feet of water, and through improvements on existing infrastructure.

“Now we want to hear what you want to do next,” Cantwell encouraged.

“Don’t stop helping,” replied Kittitas County hay, cattle and grain farmer Mark Hanson.

“That $75 million won’t go very far,” he said.

“Continue to help us find the dollars to fund our ideas for saving flood waters, creating new wetland tributaries, re-regulating water for late season irrigation and all types of conservation efforts,” Hanson urged.

The project plan authorizes the use of an integrated approach to balancing all those needs during times of drought.

The plan points at balancing the needs in the basin, from protection of salmon runs to irrigated farmland.

The question now being asked, “What is the future of water in the Yakima Valley,” Yakama Nation Tribal Council Vice Chairman Virgil Lewis posed.

Lewis informed officials and audience members that on tribal lands, “Modernization of the water systems between White Swan and the Satus Creek Area in the Wapato Irrigation Project (east of Granger) …as well as returns of natural habitats for the Sockeye Salmon.”

What is next in the Roza Irrigation District is getting the Keechelus project done, which will extend water supplies during drought years, explained Scott Revell, Roza district manager.

Cantwell has supported the plan into law, with the aid of Newhouse in the House, to enhance the sustainability of the Yakima River Valley.

This project is being looked at by others in the nation as a model, Cantwell proclaimed.

“This type of work is not happening elsewhere,” she added.

“And that is the story that needs to be told,” she declared, while praising the work and patience of the Yakima River Basin, as well as state and national leaders.

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