January 29, 2013
Almost 20 years ago, as a congressman representing Central Washington’s 4th District, Jay Inslee successfully sponsored a key step in the effort to improve water supplies in the Yakima Valley. The bill that Congress passed in 1994 led to conservation measures for irrigation canals that included metering and enclosing ditches with pipes.
The process since then has gained scope and momentum as agricultural interests; irrigation districts; local, state, federal and tribal governments; and several environmental groups negotiate the $5 billion Yakima Basin Enhancement Project. The project is a compromise that would enable new storage and enhance conservation and fish passage. Inslee last week took an important practical and symbolic step by making the project his first piece of proposed legislation as governor.
Inslee’s request bill directs the state Department of Ecology to move forward on the basin enhancement plan, which includes additional reservoir storage at Bumping Lake on Chinook Pass and Wymer in the Yakima River Canyon. Other aspects of the plan include fish ladders, other conservation efforts at existing dams and the purchase of private land to improve fish runs and protect the watershed. Legislators in both houses have introduced bills with bipartisan support, and Inslee said he will carry over a request from former Gov. Chris Gregoire to seek $20 million in bond proceeds to finance storage projects.