Lawmakers step up water policy talks
April 16th, 2003
OLYMPIA -- It's finally show time in the Legislature for serious water policy negotiation.
Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House have spent most of this year's session passing their agendas over to each other without more than a hint of give-and-take. But talks began in earnest late last week as the Legislature steams toward Friday's cutoff.
Lawmakers most recently have cleared such deadlines by simply re-writing each other's bills and passing them on without consensus. The time for that is nearing an end.
"We've been doing that all session," said Granger Rep. Bruce Chandler, Republicans' top negotiator in the House. "You can't keep asking members to vote based on titles."
Negotiators say they're close to agreement, but they've said that before.
The main bills, put in simple terms, are as follows:
-- Senate Bill 5028 originally sought to prevent water quality from being used as a basis for retracting water rights.
-- House Bill 1336 would pay for implementing plans developed by local watershed planning groups to set stream flow targets.
-- Senate Bill 5106 would loosen the state's use-it-or-lose-it water laws.
-- House Bill 1338 would give cities more certainty they'll be able to tap the unused portions of their water rights.
-- House Bill 1317 would simplify the state's trust water rights program, allowing the state to put water acquired on a permanent or temporary basis back into streams.
The bills don't look anything like they did originally but lawmakers believe they are close on most.
"We're sort of part way there but not all the way there," said Jim Waldo, Gov. Gary Locke's top water adviser. "This would be a huge success if even half these bills actually finished."
Ironically, the bill for the cities may be most in jeopardy because the cities haven't been able to reach consensus on what it should look like.
Locke made that bill his top water policy priority this session.
Sunnyside Sen. Jim Honeyford, Senate Republicans' top water negotiator, hopes to send the watershed planning and water pollution bill to Locke first and hold the others until he has a chance to sign them into law in full or veto sections to change them.
"That's the only way I see we have leverage," Honeyford said.
The Senate approved the watershed planning bill 37-11 Tuesday night
with agreed-upon language.
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