Kittitas County, WA: Commissioners Not Ready to Back Watershed Plan



ELLENSBURG Kittitas County commissioners like a plan to meet future water needs in the Yakima River Basin.

They said so Tuesday during a two-hour hearing that attracted both positive and negative comments on the document.

But they also said they are concerned about a new state law that is supposed to help put the basin Watershed Management Plan into effect.

Commissioners in Benton and Yakima counties approved the four-year, $2 million state-funded plan three months ago, which calls for water conservation and new storage to meet the needs of farmers, fish and cities into the future. The plan calls for several local, state and federal agencies to put the plan elements into effect over the next several decades.

But Kittitas County commissioners aren't ready to give it their stamp of approval just yet.

Too many unknowns and too many possible strings exist that might take the plan out of the hands of local residents who authored it and put the state in control, commissioners said.

"We want to make an informed decision," said Commission Chairman Max Golladay following a two-hour hearing on the plan. "I can take the beating if I know the beating I have coming."

And Commissioner Bruce Coe, the newest of the three-member board, said he can't look at the plan without considering what the implementation law may bring with it.

"To separate these issues is asking us to ignore the past and trust the future," he said.

The commission ultimately decided to continue the hearing until Sept. 2, asking other counties, cities and interested parties each to provide a legal analysis of the implementing law and its possible impacts.

"I don't need everyone to tell me the plan is good. I agree," commented Commissioner Perry Huston said. "I need people to tell me what this means."

Should Kittitas County ultimately approve the plan, they would later meet in joint session with their counterparts in Yakima and Benton counties and, possibly, Klickitat County, to adopt the plan.

The state Legislature approved watershed planning in 1998 and handed out money statewide to help local citizens lay out solutions. What the law didn't do is define what was to happen after the plans were completed.

The implementation law, signed by Gov. Gary Locke in June, is supposed to do that, offering local planning units up to $150,000 a year for three years.

Several people who helped write the plan urged the commissioners to approve it, saying delays could jeopardize efforts to obtain federal funds for new storage.

"If we don't say we support the concept of the plan, we will lose momentum because we can't get our act together," said Steve George of Moxee, who headed the planning group's storage subcommittee.

One possible storage site is at Black Rock, a proposed 1.7 million acre-foot reservoir, 40 miles east of Yakima. A study of the new dam has attracted $5 million in state and federal funds.

But Tim Kunka of Ellensburg, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, testified the plan should not be approved.

He said the implementing law would lead to restrictions on the use of land and existing water rights.


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