As a farmer, former state Director of Agriculture, Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, and Congressman representing one of the most flourishing agricultural regions in America, I fully understand the extent to which water is truly the lifeblood of Central Washington and our economy.
Hot summers, several years of low snowpack, and the severity of recent drought across the West illustrate how important it is that we reinvest in the water infrastructure our farms and communities were built upon – much of which is over a century old at this point. I have made it a priority to address these important issues for Central Washington and for rural communities across the West.
Unlike the west side of the Cascades, the “rain shadow” effect caused by the mountain ranges keeps our side of the state dry, with less than 10 inches of rainfall on average. In fact, there’s been little measurable rain in Central Washington since January of this year. Communities throughout Central Washington, including employers, manufacturers, agriculture producers, and tribes, depend on access to water supplies through irrigation and water infrastructure projects. The water supplied by these projects supports wildlife habitat as well, sustaining native trout and salmon species.
That is why when President Trump signed my legislation into law to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Project, we celebrated clearing one of the most significant hurdles for water needs in Central Washington. I have been involved with this project for over three decades, and I have continued those efforts as the representative for the 4th Congressional District. The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a national model for collaboration that brings local, state, and federal partners together for a common goal: a reliable water supply that meets the needs of people and the environment in the Yakima Valley.
I also introduced the Water Supply Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Utilization Act to ensure federal water supply infrastructure, like irrigation canals and dams, remain functional and efficient for the families, communities, and huge sectors of our economy across the West that depend on these critical Bureau of Reclamation projects. The provisions establish a first-of-its-kind Aging Infrastructure Account to provide stability and flexibility for local water managers who maintain and operate federal BOR water infrastructure and were included in the end-of-year spending package passed by both chambers of Congress on December 21, 2020. The creation of an Aging Infrastructure Account demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to modernizing and updating our nation’s crumbling water supply infrastructure. This is a huge win for communities – like ours in rural Central Washington – that rely on this infrastructure for our way of life.
Not only is it important to improve the planning process for future water storage projects, but it is crucial to safeguard current dams and reservoirs such as those on the lower Snake River. These dams are a vital component of the water infrastructure in the West, and they help ensure access to clean water supplies for many rural and agricultural communities. They provide important water storage, irrigation, flood control functions while producing over 3,000 megawatts of clean, renewable hydroelectricity.
I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to move forward on efforts to improve water infrastructure to mitigate the threat of drought. At a time when much of the West is facing what could be the worst drought in 100 years, and ensuing disasters such as wildfires, it is more important than ever to plan for the future by increasing current water storage capacity.
I look forward to continuing to improve water infrastructure, storage, and conservation, as well as the reliability of our water supply for irrigation and other out-of-stream uses in Central Washington. Now is the time to take collaborative action to secure resilient water supplies for our communities, farmers, and fish for generations to come.