Wash. legislators mull last-minute water bill


March 18, 2002

OLYMPIA - Water may flow downhill, but in Washington state, water legislation doesn’t have it so easy.

A scant two days before the legislative session was scheduled to end, a group of legislators managed to hammer out a bipartisan water bill.

“Our hope is that it will pass both the Senate and the House without any amendments,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Zillah, on Tuesday.

Under the agreement, a striker amendment replaced the entire text of a water bill introduced late last month by Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham.

The new version of HB 2993, titled Watershed Tools bill, was supported by Chandler, Linville, and several other House legislators.

Calling it a “modest but positive step forward,” Chandler, an Eastern Washington orchardist, said the legislation would achieve three important things for agriculture:

n It would allow and facilitate the reuse of water, a major issue for processors and irrigators, among others.

n It would expand the state’s water trust program and allow people to lease water to the trust and receive compensation for doing so.

“This should make it simpler and safer for people to preserve their water rights,” said Chandler, explaining that farmers wouldn’t be penalized for not using their water under this arrangement.

n It would simplify the permitting process for water-storage projects, and it would create a special account to receive funding for water-storage projects.

“That way, funding won’t get siphoned off for other uses if a project is delayed,” said Chandler.

Unlike Linville’s bill and another earlier bill developed by a joint executive-legislative water policy group, this latest version doesn’t include provisions on setting and achieving instream flows for fish.

Ag advocates had blasted the two earlier bills as “fish bills,” saying the instream provisions put fish ahead of people.

The bill also doesn’t update the state’s use-it-or-lose-it water policy. Nor does it secure certainty and flexibility for municipal water rights.

“We’re disappointed we weren’t able to address broader policy issues,” said Chandler. “But we’ll keep working on them.”

Other provisions of the recently crafted legislation include:

  • Affirms the Legislature’s intent to secure sufficient water for people, farms and fish through strategies developed at the local watershed level.
  • Provides tools to assist local watershed planning.
  • Directs the state’s Ecology Department to seek voluntary compliance with water laws by providing information and technical assistance to water users. It requires the department to secure compliance by formal means where voluntary compliance isn’t achieved.
  • Directs the agency to deploy watermasters to support locally based water management.
  • Creates an account to collect proposed federal funding dedicated to improving water efficiency and reliability for agriculture.

In working to come up with water legislation this session, Chandler teamed up with Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and listed these guidelines for water management:

  • It should do no harm. “Too often, actions by the Department of Ecology have unnecessarily burdened irrigators and public-water suppliers,” said the legislators in an op-ed piece. “New legislation must not worsen the current situation.”
  • New legislation must uphold the integrity of existing water rights.
  • New policies must provide more flexibility in the use of water, better management of available water supplies, and include significant provisions to increase water storage.


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