Cantwell Secures Votes to Advance the Yakima Bill through Committee

Legislation Will Bring Drought Relief to Washington Farmers, Families and Fish––Restoring Fish Runs Blocked for More Than a Century

November 19, 2015

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Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, secured the votes to advance her bill, S. 1694, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, which addresses long-standing water challenges in Washington’s Yakima River Basin. The bill builds on existing legislation and authorizes the initial phase of a integrated water resources plan that aims to enhance the long-term sustainability and resilience of the Yakima River Basin.

The senator’s bill would benefit farmers, families and fish. First, the bill would support drought relief and resilience for farmers and communities in one of Washington’s most productive agricultural regions, through improved water infrastructure, storage and conservation. The bill would also support efforts to conserve 85,000 acre feet of water, as well as the restoration of habitat and ecosystems throughout the Yakima Basin. This includes fish passage and restoration projects that would restore one of the largest sockeye salmons runs in the lower 48 states that has been blocked for more than a century.

Since the bill’s introduction in July 2015, Sen. Cantwell and her staff have worked with the Yakama Nation, farmers and irrigation districts, conservation groups, state and local governments, and community members to improve the bill. These efforts have resulted in a number of changes to the bill since its introduction, including:

(1) Changes in how the Integrated Plan is defined and will be carried out;

(2) Changes to ensure broad public participation and oversight;

(3) Additional provisions supporting water conservation targets and water transfers;

(4) Additional provisions regarding studies to evaluate the feasibility, benefits and environmental impacts of projects in the basin; and

(5) Changes that clarify drought resilience activities to support irrigation districts and communities throughout the basin.

The enactment of this bill is critical for the Yakima Basin, which is predicted to face continued drought and water supply challenges in the years to come. The Yakima Basin, like much of the West, has faced an unprecedented drought this year with low snowpacks, high heat and catastrophic wildfires. Drought has caused billions of dollars in crop losses and related impacts this year alone. This bill and the Integrated Plan it implements are designed to support the long-term resilience of the communities, economies and environment in the basin. As the Yakima Basin faces continued drought, the federal government has a responsibility to act now to prevent future impacts and costs in meeting its responsibilities in the basin, which include managing extensive Bureau of Reclamation projects, treaty and trust responsibilities to the Yakama Nation, and federal responsibilities in managing public lands and species.

“The Yakima water bill is a national model for watershed management, providing drought relief and resilience in one of Washington’s most productive agricultural regions. Farmers, fishers, irrigation districts, conservationists, community members, local governments and the Yakama Nation worked together to develop this innovative and locally-driven solution,” Sen. Cantwell said. "The federal government has a responsibility to act now to support these efforts; failure to act could have catastrophic economic and environmental impacts, as we face continuing drought and water challenges.”

“I commend Senator Cantwell and the committee for taking another important step toward helping conserve precious water resources in the Yakima Basin for families, municipalities, agricultural producers, and fish and wildlife,” said Sen. Murray. “As climate change continues to threaten our communities, iconic salmon runs and local agricultural economies, it is critical that we continue to invest in and protect our state's water resources.”

Today’s vote by the committee on a package of legislative measures, including the Yakima bill, clears the way for this important bill to be considered for passage by the full Senate.  

Read the full statement:

“Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you for scheduling this markup. I, too, agree that the committee has been productive and today’s committee markup is another example of that. I also want to thank the staff for all of their hard work on the legislation before us today.
“I am particularly grateful that you have included S. 1694, which builds on the highly successful water program in the Yakima River Basin in the state of Washington.

“S. 1694 amends existing legislation to authorize a long-term plan for addressing water challenges in the basin to:

•    Provide drought relief for farmers and communities in one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the West;
•    Enhance municipal, industrial and domestic water supplies;
•    Conserve 85,000 acre-feet of water; and
•    Restore ecosystems and fisheries throughout the basin.

“Acting now on this legislation is critical, and I think it sets a tone for how to get larger water projects done in the West. A coalition of people were working collaboratively to solve the issues, as opposed to continued lawsuits that get challenged in court and don’t give us the tools that we need to address the drought issues. So I do believe that it serves as a national model for water.

“I’d also like to thank you for working with me on the substitute amendment to the Sportsmen’s bill.  

“I believe the amendment has clarified and improved the bill. I am particularly pleased that the language includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and is identical to what we worked out in committee earlier this year.

“I believe the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important program that will benefit sportsmen and all recreational users access of public lands.  

“In particular, I want to note that the language we have agreed to in the Sportsmen’s bill adds a new requirement that not less than 1.5 percent of annual LWCF appropriations, or $10 million, whichever is greater, is to be used for projects that will help secure public access to federal lands for hunting, fishing or other recreational purposes, and I know this has been a long-standing priority for sportsmen and  sportsmen advocates.

“So I thank you for your willingness to work on these issues and look forward to the rest of the mark up.

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Read the complete bill text.
Read the bill summary.
Read the summary of changes to the bill since it was introduced.
Read the frequently asked questions about the bill.
Read Sen. Cantwell’s opening statement from the July Yakima hearing.