Roll On, Columbiaby Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 20, 2006
Even in Seattle, where for most of us water is simply a matter of turning on the tap and there is more worry about water quality than quantity, it's important to note, and salute, a historic piece of water law signed by the governor last week. It marks a breakthrough in a decades-old debate on the use of water from the Columbia River.
The accord is the result of hard work and compromise by members of the Columbia River Task Force, Gov. Christine Gregoire and key legislators, including Sens. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, and Bob Morton, R-Orient; and Reps. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
According to Tom Fitzsimmons, Gregoire's chief of staff and former head of the state Department of Ecology, the debate since the early 1980s has been over how much water needs to be in the river to protect salmon. The conflict had caused paralysis for 25 years until, as Fitzsimmons describes it, a "light goes on" for Gregoire that the real issue is an economic one, that of an Eastern Washington economy built around water from the Columbia, and she pressed for a resolution.
The legislation -- House Bill 2860 -- provides for conservation and new storage projects to collect water during high water flow periods to be used later. The agreement stipulates that one-third of the stored water be reserved for agriculture, one-third for municipal use and one-third returned to the river. The deal also includes $200 million in the state capital budget set aside for investments in water storage projects and conservation efforts over the next 10 years.
It is only a beginning, but an impressive one.
One concern is that tribal representatives were not at the table for the last-minute legislative negotiations.
The governor's office assures us that the tribes will be intimately involved in every phase of the implementation of this breakthrough policy initiative. Good. Any discussion of major water policy must include those whose water claims are arguably the most senior by far.
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