SEATTLE – Today federal legislation to protect and enhance the Yakima River basin’s fisheries, ecosystem and water supply was unanimously passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The passage of S. 1694 – known as The Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2015 — through committee represents a milestone for this legislation, which authorizes a federal role in the implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan’s fishery and water management decisions. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Proponents of the legislation anticipate that a companion bill will soon be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Yakima Plan is a balanced approach agreed upon by a diverse coalition of conservation groups, irrigators, farmers, sportsmen and women, local, state and federal governments, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. S. 1694 authorizes federal involvement in projects that improve water security for farmers through water conservation, water marketing, and more access to water stored in an existing reservoir during drought years. The bill also authorizes projects to restore fish passage at two federal reservoirs and to protect and restore habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
“Senator Cantwell’s leadership will help restore abundant salmon and steelhead runs in the Yakima Basin, including in its wilderness headwaters,” said Michael Garrity, American Rivers’ Director of Rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin. “This legislation is a win-win for the Yakima Basin’s fish, families and farms.”
S. 1694 expands upon past phases of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which focused on fish passage and water efficiencies, and recent land conservation actions funded by the State of Washington through the Yakima Plan.
“The Yakima Plan is a model for integrated water management and climate resiliency that reduces drought impacts, protects our public lands as well as waters, and considers farmers, fish and families equally,” said Ben Greuel, Washington State Director for The Wilderness Society. “The partnerships we’ve created make us more adaptable when faced with a changing climate. Congressional recognition and support of that flexibility gives me hope to see similar integrated planning efforts, and successes, across the west.”
A drought last summer in the Yakima Basin highlighted the value of the Yakima Plan’s fish and wildlife habitat and water management measures. The partnerships built through the plan resulted in rapid action to provide flow in streams that would have otherwise run dry, securing important habitat for salmon and steelhead.
“This year we’ve seen amazing partnerships and cooperation forming around water use in the Yakima Basin,” said Lisa Pelly, Director of the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited. “By working together, we’ve kept farmers afloat and enough water in the rivers for fish and wildlife. This legislation will guarantee that kind of innovative management in the future, and we are truly grateful to Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray for their visionary support.”