By Ron Reimann and Darryll Olsen, Special to the Herald
The current "Water Smart" legislation proposed by state Department of Ecology managers begs the question of whether water actually is "smart" or people can be dumb.
The crux of their legislative proposal has little to do with actual water management, but displays a self-serving attempt to keep funding agency staff during a time when state budget austerity is the order of the day.
Ecology's Olympia water management staff seek to evade reality: The state is "out of money," and many of the state's economic sectors are weak or unstable. It should be apparent that there needs to be significant changes to the state budget, and in the way key agencies affecting economic well-being set their priorities and deliver services.
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Handing Ecology another checkbook, without requiring management/fiscal reform, would be irresponsible legislative action. Not "Water Smart," but "people dumb."
To determine how we move forward, we have to face some facts.
Fact 1: Our past cannot be our future.
In his recent op-ed piece (Voices, Feb. 16), the director of Ecology said, "change is needed for water management." We agree.
In some cases, the current Ecology management staff represent multi-decade, entrenched management objectives and ideologies. This is not the source material for enlightened management reform; and time breeds arrogance toward the righteousness of their own thinking.
Several water users and state legislators perceive the need for true management reform, and the preferred alternative is to bring accountability to state water management governance through a new State Water Commission, composed of statewide representatives (HB 1296). And the Water Commission will carry with it recommendations to reduce the water management staff by about 30 percent to 40 percent.
Fact 2: Water right holders and users already pay for water use costs.
Predominantly, water right holders and users already pay for the full development and infrastructure costs of delivering water to the municipal, commercial, industrial and irrigation sectors. Paying for this cost is what generates significant state economic activity, and state and local tax dollars.
Fact 3: Water management is hard, but it can get better.
Fiscal circumstances compel a refocus of state water management staff toward high-priority, on-the-ground services and deliverables. This includes more bodies directly engaged in processing water rights and related administrative duties; and placing staff under the direction of the County Water Conservancy Boards, which manage water right changes and transfers -- the lion's share of water right review and management.
In Eastern Washington, the 2006 Columbia River "mitigation criteria" may reflect the worst that empty-gesture environmentalism has to offer, but the Columbia River Office is more responsive to local needs than any other state management unit. It would further flourish under Water Commission direction.
Fact 4: Our water resources may be "finite," but they are renewable, and they exist in large supply.
Washington has access to more fresh and directly usable water than any other Western state. On both sides of the Cascades, we have an ability to secure and use additional water supplies without harming existing water rights or environmental resources. Match this huge water supply with new conservation and technical management strategies and you have the basis for expanded economic growth and productivity.
So, let us move to a new form of state water management governance and accountability, with less government costs and better priorities and services.
* Ron Reimann is secretary and treasurer of T&R Farms in Franklin County. Darryll Olsen is board representative for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association.