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Posted on Mar 14, 2019

Congress OKs landmark bill for Yakima Basin, Okanogan County: Column

By Rep. Dan Newhouse

“Gridlock” might seem to be the best word to describe divided government in Washington D.C. these days. However, last week, despite the partisan differences in the nation’s capital, bipartisanship and pragmatism won in what can only be described as a major legislative win for Central Washington.
The House and Senate approved of a package of natural resource bills that includes Central Washington priorities. I have worked for almost thirty years with many other advocates on the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan in my capacity as a farmer, a state lawmaker, the state director of agriculture, and as a congressman. I was proud to work across party lines on this legislation with Senator Maria Cantwell.
The Yakima Basin Plan is the result of the work of a dynamic and diverse group of interests, including agriculture, conservationists, irrigators, tribes, state and local stakeholders, fish passage experts, and federal agencies. Their work on a compromise solution to increase water storage infrastructure for the Yakima Basin by 250,000 acre-feet, improve fish habitat, and rehabilitate the Wapato Irrigation Project will help our region combat the effects of drought and its economic consequences. Because this project involves federal land, it was essential for Congress to pass this legislation to allow implementation to continue.
The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Implementation Committee’s solution presents a national model for progress on water storage, which can be a third rail of politics in the dry West.
I strongly believe that one of the most important principles for land and natural resource management is local input, and last week, Congress also approved legislation sought by the local community in Okanogan County to preserve the stunning Methow Valley. While Okanogan County has a long history of mining, the local community has worked to preserve the Methow Headwaters, which is central for the future of the region’s recreational economy. S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, was approved by Congress and included a provision to withdraw 340,000 acres in the Methow Valley from consideration for mining.
The legislation containing the Yakima and Methow Valley bills passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 363 to 62, and the Senate approved it on February 12. It now heads to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law in the very near future.
Both the next phase of the Yakima Basin Project and preserving the Methow Headwaters required federal action, and working together, the local community and congressional representatives in both parties were able to make substantive progress on these economic goals for Central Washington.

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