More Work Remains on
by George Erb, Managing Editor
Washington's residents can be forgiven for believing that lawmakers and competing interests resolved, once and for all, the contentious debate over managing water in the Columbia River Basin.
Gov. Chris Gregoire last week signed the Columbia River Basin Water Resource Management bill amid a great flowering of superlatives. Several state officials and pundits declared the pact "historic" and "landmark," among other things. The governor herself announced, "The gridlock is broken."
Well, maybe. Enough of the huzzahs. We believe the complexities of the issue and the number of competing interests involved guarantee that more hard work remains.
Government officials and interest groups have struggled for decades over how to provide enough water for people and fish in the Columbia River Basin of Central Washington.
Gregoire and state Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, among others, were instrumental in getting irrigators, farmers, utilities and environmentalists to negotiate a water-management package.
What emerged was a bill with provisions for such things as new reservoirs, conservation projects and ways to apportion the additional water between people and fish, particularly salmon.
The bill, HB 2860, sailed through the Legislature with only four opposing votes in the House.
Make no mistake: The legislation was a triumph of ambitious thinking and a big step forward. Progress on an issue with this degree of complexity, magnitude and passion is difficult.
But we see warning signs that suggest the agreement has a ways to go before it subsides into comfortable conventional wisdom. Political and business leaders need to prepare for the work to come.
Getting the bill out of two House committees was no cakewalk. Nine Republicans from both sides of the Cascades voted against the bill in one committee, and 11 Republicans and one Democrat opposed the bill in the second committee. Those votes offer hints of buried concerns that could resurface later.
The legislation paves the way for state and local authorities to try to persuade the federal government to help pay for new reservoirs. That's a tall order, given the federal government's relentless debt burden.
We also wonder whether Central Washington farmers will see results in time to save their businesses from the shrinking Odessa aquifer. They are in a race against time, and the outcome is uncertain.
Our hope, however, is that the agreement holds together under the buffeting that is sure to come. It's time to roll up our sleeves.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs