A portion of the funding Congress approves for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would be set aside to pay for new and expanded capacity for water storage, under a proposal by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
That legislation, which Hastings said is only a "discussion draft," and two more concrete bills were talked about Wednesday at a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power.
"In these fiscal times, it is going to require creativity and new ideas to achieve needed water solutions," including for the Yakima River system, Hastings said at the hearing.
He supports the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan that calls for a range of solutions, including conservation, market reallocation, surface water storage and groundwater storage.
Hastings' draft bill would, for the first time in many years, recommit the federal Bureau of Reclamation to its core mission of providing abundant water supplies for multiple-use by creating a dedicated revolving account, said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., subcommittee chairman.
Hastings also has introduced legislation that would allow irrigation districts to voluntarily repay federal obligations early. The money would be put into a new account to be used only to build new water storage or to expand existing water storage reservoirs.
It's a "no brainer," McClintock said. "The cash-strapped federal treasury benefits by an immediate infusion of cash and the local districts are relieved of long-term interest costs and the attendant paperwork requirements."
Currently to repay money early, a water district must get an specific bill signed into federal law. Five water districts have done that in the last decade.
The third piece of legislation, introduced by McClintock, would streamline the process for obtaining a permit for a new water storage. Now many agencies may be involved in the process, but the legislation would create a one-stop process through the Bureau of Reclamation.
"For new and expanded storage reservoirs to become a reality in the Yakima Valley and elsewhere in the West, there must be a sea-change in how the federal government reacts to new storage," Hastings said.
Now the approach is "paralysis by analysis." His goal is to find innovative ways to invest in water storage with the beneficiaries paying for it, he said.
The proposed legislation comes amid concerns about adequate water this year in the Yakima River, according to the Yakima River Basin Joint Board, a coalition of irrigation districts, water companies and cities, which submitted written testimony for the hearing.
The watershed above the Naches River has received only 54 percent of its average precipitation to date, and if conditions do not improve, water users with junior rights may have their water use curtailed, according to the board. In some cases irrigation users have more senior rights than cities and rural homes.
"We need more water storage carrying capacity to meet our dry-year demands," the board said.
It supports Hastings' proposal to create a dedicated Bureau of Reclamation account for water storage projects and says it would make $400 million available in four years that could be invested in projects and then repaid over time.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews