U.S. proposal may harm Yakima Basin water plan

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 27, 2014 

The Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan could be harmed by an Obama administration proposal to manage water resources that could affect Forest Service land, said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

He joined 41 other members of Congress in sending a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to withdraw the Forest Services' recently proposed Groundwater Resource Management Directive.

Essential elements of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan are improvements to reservoirs on Forest Service lands that have provided water to the Yakima River basin for many years.

"The Forest Service directive could delay or derail the implementation of this vital, innovative and broadly supported plan, including already approved projects, which will provide water for fish and habitat," said Larry Martin of Yakima.

Martin spoke and submitted written testimony on behalf of the National Water Resources Association at a hearing on the Forest Service and other proposed regulations before the House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee.

After decades of fighting that delayed action, diverse water users dependent on Yakima basin water have agreed to a water plan developed between 2009 and 2011. It expands and builds reservoirs, provides fish passage at dams in the basin, improves irrigation and water delivery infrastructure, and invests in fish and wildlife improvement.

It meets the needs of water users representing agriculture, municipal, tribal and environmental interests throughout the region, Martin said.

The Forest Service is attempting to assert authority over groundwater and surface water decisions that are beyond its authority, he said.

The Forest Service proposal would require an evaluation of applications for water rights on land adjacent to federal forests that could adversely affect Forest Service groundwater and would require identification of any potential harm to those resources, according to the letter from Hastings and other congressional leaders. It was released at the start of the hearing.

The proposal could impose de facto federal buffer zones on water users adjacent to federal lands and could encourage litigation, the letter said. That would have a chilling effect on water resource development on federal land and land outside federal forests, the letter said.

The Forest Service declined to attend the hearing.

The proposed directive was developed without input from states and those who use water for recreation and farming, according to those opposing it. Public comment is being accepted on the proposal.

Comments may be emailed until Aug. 4 to fsm2500@fs.fed.us.

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