Bills to preserve and enhance the water supply of a half-million acres of Central Washington farmland and to help keep building costs down for rural developers have cleared a key legislative committee.
“These bills are about water and ensuring that it is there for the farms that are a critical part of the Washington economy and for the homes of the families of our state,” said committee chair Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond.
SB 5367 deals with water management in the Yakima River Basin, a fertile stretch of central Washington land that covers 6,155 square miles and a half-million acres of irrigated cropland. Over -appropriation of surface water supplies and multiple droughts threaten to overtax a declining water supply, while salmon and steelhead runs that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands have been reduced to fewer than 20,000 in the last 10 to 15 years. Under SB 5367, the Department of Ecology would lay the groundwork for a multi-decade plan to improve the water resources of the basin. Those improvements would include better management of in-stream flows for improved habitat and fish restoration and improving water supplies for irrigation, municipalities and domestic use.
“In the coming years, we have a real chance to safeguard the water supply that helps to produce billions of dollars for the state in both agriculture and food processing,” said Hatfield. “At the same time, we will be good stewards of the fish runs that have fallen to dangerously low levels.”
Included in the recovery plan will be the establishment of three expenditure accounts to cover the costs of the plans implementation and serve as a funding source for future projects in the basin. The three accounts will be funded using tax exempt bonds and revenues from water service contracts.
SB 5200 is designed to allow developers to provide water from existing water sources to new developments without the financial and environmental cost of digging a new well. Under the bill, new single or group domestic homes and developments will be able to receive regulated and efficient water service from an existing system. In return, the existing system will be allowed to expand to include the new water supply without digging a new well. Current law allows new users to join the water system but only after an arduous and lengthy process requiring unnecessary wells to be dug and put to use before the water can be consolidated into the existing water system’s permit.
“This is about efficiency and cost savings for new developments. Water can be supplied in a manner that protects both public health and the environment,” said Hatfield. “New homeowners get clean and reliable water service, without digging a well that may be abandoned in a matter of months.”
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For more information: Ian Cope, Senate Democratic Caucus, 360-786-7535
For interviews: Sen. Brian Hatfield, 360-786-7636