Washington Water Basin Bill Held up in Congress

Disagreements about how to address the poisoned water crisis in Flint, Mich., has stalled previously promising negotiations on the energy bill.

by Kate Prengaman, Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash. / February 12, 2016
Yakima Water Basin, Wash. flickr/Frank Fujimoto

(TNS) -- The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan would receive $15.8 million in the budget proposal issued by the Obama administration this week, but the bill authorizing the plan as part of a broad, bipartisan energy policy has stalled.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, had introduced an amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act that she co-sponsored to include approval of water management plans in the Yakima Basin.

Now, disagreements about how to address the poisoned water crisis in Flint, Mich., appear to have stalled previously promising negotiations on the energy bill.

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a 30-year, $4 billion plan to improve water management in the region, including more storage, fish passage, conservation, water markets and habitat restoration.

A standalone bill to authorize the first 10-year phase of the plan was passed with bipartisan support by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November but has not been taken up by the full Senate. Spokesmen for Republican Reps. Dave Reichert and Dan Newhouse, both of Washington, have said they are working on a House bill as well.

Opponents of the plan said in a news release Thursday that authorizing it as part of the larger energy bill would constitute “back-door legislating” and urged lawmakers to reject the amendment.

On the budget front, the funding is far from a sure thing, but its inclusion in the proposal suggests ongoing support for the plan by the administration.

The Obama administration’s $4.1 trillion 2017 budget proposal was immediately greeted with criticism from Republicans. Observers are calling it more of a political document than probable budget.

But it calls for $3 million more for the integrated plan than this year, according to a news release from Cantwell. The funds would mostly go toward the federal share of the $100 million fish passage project underway at the Cle Elum Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation is also putting additional funding toward local projects this year, the agency announced this week as part of a $166 million Western Drought Response program. Water conservation efforts in the basin will get an extra $9 million, and the Cle Elum fish passage project will get $4 million.

©2016 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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