Inslee bill aims to improve Yakima Basin water

Governor urges action to address supply for agriculture, communities

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YAKIMA — Gov. Jay Inslee introduced a bill to the Legislature on Thursday requiring state agencies to begin implementing a long-term plan for improving water supplies in Central Washington's agricultural Yakima River Basin.

The arid region is a farming powerhouse thanks to miles of irrigation canals built to feed fruit orchards, wine grapes and dozens of other crops. But periodic droughts reduce stream flows for those farmers, as well as for local communities and threatened fish, and state and federal officials have been working for years to develop a plan for easing those pains.

Last year, state and federal officials rolled out a $4 billion long-term plan that includes proposals for a new reservoir, expansion of at least two others, enhanced water conservation and improved fish passage and habitat, among other things.

Inslee on Thursday called the plan a concrete and specific proposal for bolstering agriculture and the economy in Central Washington. He also called it a "sweet spot" in his broader jobs agenda, because he believes the measure would have the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

"This is water, jobs and fish," he said.

Inslee says he supports spending $23.6 million over the next two years on specific projects laid out in the plan, though state lawmakers already face a budget that is $1 billion out of balance and a state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature isn't adequately funding education.

The proposal is Inslee's first as governor. He was sworn in Jan. 16.