June 11, 2001
Continued collaborative, bipartisan effort needed for water reform
by Gary Locke
With the help of a lot of people in the Legislature, Washington is beginning to implement the long needed water reform that I proposed last year.
I made water reform one of my administration's highest priorities this last year so the Legislature's positive action is very gratifying.
We've got a start with a new law, known as House Bill 1832, which begins to break a water reform logjam that is more than 30 years old.
I particularly want to thank those who played key roles in getting the legislation I submitted passed.
I signed it into law on May 10. Thanks to a collective effort, the water reform is much better than what I first proposed.
The legislation contained in House Bill 1832 will help us respond to the drought and, more importantly, prepare for the future. Specifically, the legislation will:
€Create two lines for water-right applications - one for new rights and one for changing or transferring water rights. This will speed up the long line of 7,000 requests. People shouldn't have to wait years for a simple, non-controversial transfer of a water permit.
€Allow local water conservancy boards to process all types of water-right changes and transfers and make them more efficient and accountable to the public.
€Create a tax incentive for water utilities to conserve and reuse water.
€Revise the 1977 Family Farm Water Act, allowing family farm water permits in urban growth areas, or within city limits, to be converted to other uses - for homes, businesses and cities.
€Put firm timelines in place to get stream flows set - something that is vital to saving fish and providing certainty about how much water is available for farms and growing communities.
€Encourage donations of water to improve stream flows and benefit fish, through a trust water rights program. Donors don't risk losing their water rights, and their donations are tax deductible.
However, water legislation without funding to implement the reforms is a mere token.
In the end, the Legislature must deliver - it must provide funding in the state budget and not leave the job half done.
This is only the beginning. It will take several years to meet the state's economic and environmental needs for water. I'm asking lawmakers for their continued support in developing the next phase of solutions for the next legislative session.
Here are my key objectives for 2002:
€Define and implement a strategy for meeting the needs of fish by moving beyond just setting minimum stream flows - and actually achieving those flows.
€Address the water needs of growing communities. Public water systems must have the certainty and flexibility to serve growth and maintain a healthy economy, while also meeting their environmental obligations.
€Fix the outdated "use it or lose it" policies to ensure that water users have better incentives to save water.
Just as we must address requirements and incentives to conserve and reuse water, we also must define and implement a new water storage program beginning next year. Storing excess water during our wet season can help us meet most of our needs for water in the dry season.
I also call upon members of both parties in the Legislature to continue our collaborative, bipartisan effort on modernizing our water laws to meet the needs of a growing population, our farms and fish.
Gary Locke is governor of Washington.