We were encouraged in September, when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar helped shine a national spotlight on the Yakima River Basin's water problems.
The release earlier this month of a comprehensive plan to address the issue creates more reason for optimism.
The Bureau of Reclamation's and Washington Department of Ecology's final programmatic environmental impact statement lays out a $4 billion proposal to address the basin's environmental issues and perennial water shortages.
It's a lot of money, but the future of one of the state's most productive agricultural region's depends on addressing the complex problems plaguing the basin.
Farming in the Yakima Valley generates $1 billion a year in business, creates thousands of jobs and produces one of the most diverse array of commercial crops in the world.
Hay, mint, apples, cherries, peaches, pears, asparagus, potatoes, grapes and more are grown in the valley. Most beer lovers already know that most of the nation's hop production depends on the Yakima River.
In a nutshell -- the Yakima River is a resource worth saving, even at $4 billion.
In drought years, farmers holding junior water rights are lucky to get enough water to keep their orchards and vineyards alive.
The basin has suffered five major droughts in 19 years, and climate scientists predict more frequent and severe shortages as warming trends reduce the snowpacks that feed the Yakima River.
This Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan offers a comprehensive solution to a complex set of problems.
It already has its detractors. The proposal to construct a new dam at Bumping Lake reservoir, for example, is drawing opposition from environmentalists because the additional 190,000 acre feet of storage capacity will flood some old-growth forest.
But while there may be legitimate objections to pieces of the integrated plan, the net effect of the entire project would be a boon to the environment.
The proposal includes fish passages at Clear Lake, Cle Elum, Bumping, Rimrock, Keechelus and Kachess. In addition, a pipeline from Lake Keechelus to Lake Kachess will provide a way to deal with runoffs without damaging critical habitat.
The mandate was to address problems affecting fish passage and habitat and secure water supplies for agricultural, municipal and domestic uses.
No perfect solution exists, but it's difficult to imagine an approach that would have produced a better plan.
Representatives from the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, environmental organizations and federal, state, county and city governments participated in drafting the plan.
The result of including a broad-based coalition of stakeholders is a balanced proposal that addresses water shortages through additional storage, improved conservation and reallocation, while protecting and enhancing habitat.
Any government project with a $4 billion price tag has tough road ahead, but this proposal already has earned bipartisan support.
"I urge that we move forward and implement this new program -- the sooner we're able to provide a constant source of water, the sooner our entire region will benefit," said Gov. Chris Gregoire.