Committee Holds Hearing on Hastings’ Water Storage Bills
Serious drought conditions across the West highlight need for more water supplies
Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a legislative hearing on solutions to jumpstarting construction of additional water storage throughout the western United States, including two proposals by Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA) to address new ways to finance these projects nationwide.
“I have long supported efforts to construct additional water storage in the Yakima River Basin,” said Hastings, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “It is essential to our communities, farmers, and fish that we think of new and innovative ways to fund water storage in this time of limited federal budgets. These bills represent a positive first step forward for the Yakima River Basin and countless communities like it throughout the West. More action is needed in addition to these measures, and more action will be coming in the near future.”
The first proposal by Hastings, H.R. 3981, would allow irrigation districts to voluntarily prepay contracts with the federal government. The funding that is generated by these payments would be placed in an account to fund either the construction of new water storage projects or the expansion of current water storage reservoirs.
The second proposal, which is a discussion draft proposed by Hastings, would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to implement a surface storage enhancement program to fund new or expanded water storage construction for purposes including increased municipal supply, agricultural irrigation, and to reduce impacts to fish and wildlife.
“These bills complement each other and both are aimed at the same goal: identifying new sources of funds for new storage. In these fiscal times, it is going to require creativity and new ideas to achieve needed water solutions. This is true not just for more storage, but also for the corresponding commitments to habitat, efficiency, fisheries and other identified purposes,” said Hastings in his opening statement. “From day one, I have supported efforts to build new storage in the Yakima Basin, and I commend and continue to urge forward the current Integrated Plan that is underway.”
The Yakima River Basin Joint Board, a coalition of irrigation stakeholders that promote multiple uses of the Yakima River Basin water supply, submitted testimony in support of Hastings’ efforts. “This bill would provide a critically important and creative financing mechanism for much needed water storage facilities… By making these funds available for investment in new surface water storage projects, to be repaid over time, the growing needs for new water supplies in the Yakima River Basin, and the West, could be met while protecting the jobs and communities so dependent on reliable water supplies for their very existence.”
The third bill, H.R. 3980, introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA), would make it easier to construct additional storage by streamlining the current multi-agency permitting process for new storage projects and creating a "one-stop-shop" permitting process through the Bureau of Reclamation.
Today's hearing is the third in a series of hearings held by the House Committee on Natural Resources since Hastings was named Chairman in 2011. The first hearing, held in February 2012, investigated the regulatory and bureaucratic barriers to constructing new water storage. The second hearing, held in October 2013, examined the need for new and expanded multi-surface storage. During the hearing, Derek Sandison, Director of the Office of the Columbia River for the Washington State Department of Ecology, testified on the need for the Integrated Plan within the Yakima River Basin.