Watershed group seeks state action
Plans to allocate 'finite' water supplies in face of 'dwindling' salmon runs

OLYMPIA, WA -4/3/02 -- Plans to manage water for communities, crops, fish and wildlife are under way in 40 of the state's 62 river drainage areas, including all five river basins in South Sound.

Thirteen of the plans are slated for completion next year, including those for the Nisqually and Chehalis rivers.

The so-called watershed plans are viewed by many as a way to reach agreement at the local level on how to allocate finite water supplies in the face of population growth and dwindling salmon runs.

Tuesday, a 16-member committee consisting of community, business, water supplier, local government, tribal and environmental leaders met in Olympia to begin work on a report to the Legislature on ways to turn the plans into action.

The committee is charged with identifying possible funding sources, changes in state law and rules to ensure the plans are carried out.

In some respects, the committee faces many of the same challenges and issues the state Legislature has wrestled with in the water reform arena -- often with little success.

Water reform legislation languished in the 2002 session, for instance.

"Given what happened in this session, this group's work is even more important," said Dick Wallace, state Department of Ecology's watershed planning coordinator.

An example of a sticking point with lawmakers is setting in-stream flows that are adequate to protect water supplies for fish, farms and growing communities.

"I don't think the Legislature will resolve in-stream flows," state Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons told the committee. "Those decisions have to be made at a more localized level."

Watershed planning across the state is funded by Ecology, which saw its budget for such work cut this biennium from $11.9 million to $9 million.

Money for local governments to work on setting in-stream flows was reduced from $2.1 million to $1.2 million.

The committee will be recommending ways to finance the plans into action.

"It's totally unrealistic to think you can implement watershed plans on grant money alone," said Tom Anderson, a committee member representing the Whatcom County Public Utility District.

Local funding from property taxes or special taxing districts will be necessary to carry out the work, he suggested.

The committee is scheduled to submit its report to Gov. Gary Locke and state lawmakers later this year in time for consideration by the 2003 Legislature.


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