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Washington Water project takes center stage in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C - Thursday,  Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced H.R. 4419, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Project Streamlining Act of 2017 to streamline the Bureau of Reclamation’s and Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental planning and study process for new water projects and to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

The bill would apply the same streamlined water project development process used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014 to the Bureau of Reclamation and to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to facilitate the construction of new or expanded surface water, storage, infrastructure, and recycling projects.

H.R. 4419 broadens the legislation to include additional surface water storage projects, water infrastructure projects, rural water projects, water recycling, and Title XVI water projects. The legislation authorizes a Phase III of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, an initiative to better accommodate the water needs of the agricultural community, conservationists, residents, and other stakeholders in the Yakima River Basin region. 

“I am grateful to Speaker Paul Ryan and House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Rob Bishop for working with me and Rep. Dave Reichert to craft this legislation that streamlines the process for new water infrastructure projects and authorizes the next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan,” said Rep. Newhouse. “Updating and modernizing our water supply infrastructure is critical to meet the current needs and future growth of communities across the nation. The Yakima Basin Plan is a national model for collaborative water infrastructure planning, taking into consideration the needs of agriculture, conservationists, residents, and a diverse group of stakeholders. We need to get this done.” 

“After years of discussion with local stakeholders, I am proud that we have finally come together on a forward-thinking plan that will work to protect the future economic health of the Yakima Basin and the surrounding regions. It does so by providing the water needed for our agricultural, irrigation, environmental, and tribal interests; local businesses; and communities to thrive,” said Rep. Reichert. “There is more work to be done to perfect this plan. I am committed to achieving a final product that will give agricultural producers the confidence they need to continue operating and expanding in the area, while also addressing the concerns of conservationists and local residents. I look forward to continued work with Congressman Newhouse and the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan to move this legislation through Congress and to the President’s desk. ”

“Rep. Newhouse has worked hard on this issue and it clearly shows he cares about the people of Washington state,” House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.

For the text of the legislation, click here.

The Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act requires the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to accelerate studies and provide more accountability in the agency’s process to study the feasibility of new and or expanded surface water storage.

The legislation would provide the same streamlined water project development process for BOR and BIA surface water storage projects that the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014” (WRRDA) gave to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

The goal of the legislation is to reform the current cumbersome, lengthy process so that there is a mechanism to build new surface water storage projects in the West.

The bill is designed to speed up BOR’s and BIA’s feasibility study process on surface water storage that “would be owned, funded, or operated” by the agency.  The legislation also requires reporting and transparency requirements to provide agency justifications on why feasibility studies are not being completed in a timely manner.

 The bill closely resembles provisions included in WRRDA. The conference report for WRRDA, which includes nearly identical provisions for the Corps, passed both Houses in the 113th Congress (by a vote of 412-4 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate). 

Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project:

In the 114th Congress, similar legislation authorizing the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III (H.R. 4686) introduced by Rep. Reichert and Rep. Newhouse ran into an earmark issue in the House. This revised legislation allows authorization of the Yakima Basin project consistent with the House rules.

The Yakima River Basin is one of the leading agricultural regions in Washington State and throughout the country. The orchardists, wine grape growers, and other members of the agricultural community inject approximately $3.2 billion into Washington’s economy and support countless jobs in the area. However, the demand for water in the region currently exceeds the resources available, especially during times of drought, which have hit the state especially hard in the past few years. As a result, water use has been restricted for junior water rights holders - or individuals who obtained water rights in 1905 or later – during times of shortages.

With researchers predicting that drought seasons will only become more common and get worse as snowpack in the mountains continues to decline, action needs to be taken so that stakeholders in the Yakima Basin can continue operating without having to worry about whether or not they will be able to water their crops or their backyard garden. As the nation has seen with extreme water problems in California, we must be proactive and have a viable plan in place should intense drought hit Washington.

After years of tough negotiations, the Yakima River Basin Plan offers a solution that will give water users more certainty, while also recognizing the concerns of conservationists and the various stakeholders in the Yakima Basin.

Specifically, the Yakima River Basin Plan would:

- Provide greater water supply reliability for farmers and communities.
- Secure the water that communities need to meet current and future demand.
- Protect over 200,000 acres of currently unprotected forest, shrub steppe, and river habitat.
- Enhance habitat along the Yakima River and its tributaries.
- Implement water marketing and banking so that water is more easily delivered when and where needed.
- Build fish passage to allow salmon, steelhead, and bull trout to travel throughout the basin.

Additional bill highlights:

·         Requires future Reclamation feasibility studies to be completed with three years after the date of initiation and have a maximum federal cost of $3 million. The bill provides for a maximum seven year extension of that time and cost if the Interior Secretary provides a detailed justification to the non-federal project sponsor and the Congress.  

·         Requires the Interior Secretary to expedite the completion of any ongoing feasibility studies initiated before the date of enactment. If the Secretary determines that the project is justified in a completed report, he/she shall proceed to proceed to pre-construction planning, engineering and design of the project.

·         Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process with Reclamation and the non-federal project sponsor as lead agencies for expedited environmental review of a project. The bill further directs the lead agencies to establish a schedule for completion of a study and lays out financial penalties to the Interior Secretary if timelines are not met.

·         Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and submit a report to the relevant committees in Congress that identifies project report, proposed project and proposed modifications to studies and federal and non-federal cost estimates for all three. These activities would be similar to the feasibility studies listed in Section 7002 of P.L. 113-121, which authorized construction of projects by Congress.  

·         The legislation additionally authorizes the following projects:

- Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation - California

- Equus Beds Division of the Wichita Project – Kansas

- Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System - Montana
 


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