Cantwell’s Yakima Bill Represents a New Era in Water Management

Legislation Will Provide Drought Relief to Farmers and Restore Fisheries after More Than a Century

July 1, 2015

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced legislation to authorize the initial phase of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan. The bill and the plan it implements will dramatically enhance the sustainability and resilience of the Yakima River Basin, particularly in the face of climate change. Specifically, the bill provides for improved water infrastructure and storage, water conservation and ecosystem restoration, and construction of fish passage at two dams, which will restore fish runs that have been blocked for more than a century.

Particularly during drought, there is not enough water in the Yakima Basin to meet current and likely future demands. Insufficient water impacts agriculture, communities and the environment. Irrigators share water shortages during drought, leading to significant crop and economic losses. Communities in the basin face challenges in meeting the growing needs of families and businesses. And, the health of the watershed has been in decline for more than a century, with several fish species having gone extinct in the basin and others being listed as endangered due to the loss of habitat and other factors.  

The Yakima Integrated Plan is a collaborative approach to water management in the basin that seeks to address divisive water challenges that have led to conflict and litigation in the past. This plan addresses long-standing water supply challenges and environmental needs, by providing a more reliable and sustainable supply of water to meet agricultural, municipal and environmental needs.

"We need new options when it comes to dealing with drought and water storage. The Yakima Basin project does just that," said Sen. Cantwell, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "It is a national model for integrated water storage that will also help one of the most productive agricultural and salmon-spawning areas in our state deal with the devastating impacts of water shortages."  

This legislation is considered a model because it embodies collaborative, consensus-based decision-making at the local level. It also considers human and ecological needs at the watershed scale. Lastly, it provides an adaptive framework for water management now and into the future.

If enacted, the bill would lead to improved water supply, improved environmental outcomes, and more resilient water management in the face of climate change. One of the most important benefits of enactment would be the restoration of significant fish habitat, including chinook, coho, steelhead, bull trout and sockeye salmon runs. Improved instream flows, fish ladders and habitat restoration throughout the basin, as called for in the full Integrated Plan, could help re-establish one of the largest sockeye salmon runs in the contiguous United States. Fish passage projects authorized in this bill would restore access to the headwaters of the Cle Elum River, which have been blocked for more than 100 years.

Furthermore, the bill would provide drought relief and certainty to the most productive agricultural region in the state, which generates nearly $3.2 billion in economic benefits each year.

The senator will unveil this legislation during a press conference at the Yakima Arboretum in Washington state on Wednesday, July 1, at 10:30 a.m. PST. Next week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on this legislative proposal on Tuesday, July 7, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. EST, which will be open to the public and live webcast here.

Read the summary of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2015.
Read the complete bill text.