|Wash. legislators mull
last-minute water bill
COOKSON BEECHER, Capital Press
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
“Our hope is that it will pass both the Senate and the House
without any amendments,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Zillah, on
Under the agreement, a striker amendment replaced the entire
text of a water bill introduced late last month by Rep. Kelli
The new version of HB 2993, titled Watershed Tools bill, was
supported by Chandler, Linville, and several other House
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
“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
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
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
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
- New legislation must uphold the integrity of existing water
- 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.