Democratic News

Apr 20 2016

Senate Passes Cantwell’s Yakima Water Bill, a National Model for Addressing Water Challenges through Collaboration

Sen. Cantwell’s Yakima Bill Will Help Restore Historic Fish Runs Blocked for More Than a Century and Support Drought Resilience for Ecosystems, Communities and Agriculture in the Yakima River Basin


Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, secured passage of S. 1694, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, as part of the bipartisan energy bill that passed the Senate with a vote of 85 to 12. Sen. Cantwell’s bill authorizes an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing basin-wide water challenges in drought-stricken communities. This bill is a model for water management in the 21st century, particularly as communities throughout the West are impacted by drought and climate change.

The bill addresses long-standing water challenges in the state of Washington’s Yakima River Basin, which is one of the West’s most productive agricultural regions and once was one of the nation’s most productive salmon fisheries. Drought and growing demands on water historically led to water conflicts, lawsuits and environmental degradation in the basin. This bill ushers in a new era in water management in the basin by authorizing an integrated approach to balancing the needs of both humans and nature across the watershed through water conservation, ecosystem restoration and drought relief measures. In so doing, the bill seeks to bring water security for farmers, families and fish for years to come.

Unprecedented drought conditions in 2015 underscored the urgent need for enacting this bill. As in much of the West, last year’s drought brought record-breaking lows in snowpack, high heat, catastrophic wildfires, fish kills and restrictions in water use. The region is predicted to face continued drought and water supply challenges in the decades to come. These conditions could threaten ecosystems, including stream flows for fish, and the availability of water for crops and communities. That is why enactment of this bill is critical for the Yakima Basin.

The federal government has a responsibility to act now to prevent future impacts and costs in meeting its responsibilities in the basin, which include treaty and trust responsibilities to the Yakama Nation, protecting endangered species, managing public lands and managing extensive Bureau of Reclamation projects.

“We must act now to address the nation's water challenges and the impacts of drought and climate change,” Sen. Cantwell said. "We have to put the days of fighting over water behind us and work together to find common ground to solve our collective water challenges. Yakima is leading the way.”

“We have a responsibility to protect Washington state’s unique natural resources, and I commend Senator Cantwell for her work to conserve water resources in the Yakima Basin for families, communities, farmers, and fish and wildlife,” said Sen. Murray. “As climate change continues to threaten our local communities, economy and iconic salmon runs, it’s critical that we continue working to protect our state’s precious water resources for future generations.”

“Trout Unlimited applauds Senator Cantwell’s tireless and consistent leadership to move S. 1694, the Yakima bill, through the legislative process including today’s critical vote by the full Senate,” said Lisa Pelly, director of the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited. “Her ability to work on a bipartisan basis with Senator Murkowski on the energy bill provides for new and important federal authorities necessary for moving forward on the collaborative efforts in the Yakima Basin that benefit fisheries, water supplies and local communities – creating a replicable model for communities across the West.”

“Sen. Cantwell has long been ahead of the curve in recognizing the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan as a model for 21st Century water management and ecosystem restoration. The Yakima bill embodies the kind of effective collaboration that will be needed to outpace threats from climate change,” said Michael Garrity, Puget Sound-Columbia Basin Director for American Rivers.

“It is exciting to see Sen. Maria Cantwell’s Yakima water enhancement bill move forward in support of one of our most important watersheds in Washington state,” said Tom Tebb, director of the Office of Columbia River with the Washington Department of Ecology. “This act is essential as we build on the success we’ve already achieved in the Yakima Basin to assure water security in times of drought and to prepare for climate change.”

Last July, Sen. Cantwell introduced the bill, which represents a hard-won compromise between conservation, recreation, agricultural and municipal interests as well as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the state of Washington and the federal government. Since the bill’s introduction, Sen. Cantwell has continued to work with these groups 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.

After a public hearing in November, the bill passed on a bipartisan basis out of the committee for consideration by the full Senate. The Yakima bill was included in the energy bill as an amendment, with other natural resources proposals. The bipartisan amendment was agreed to by a vote of 85 to 12. With the bill’s passage this week, the Yakima bill is one step closer to becoming a law.

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.
Read Sen. Cantwell’s opening statement from the November Yakima mark-up.