Newhouse’s bill improving home state river basin to become law as part of lands package

The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 26 passed a lands package bill that includes bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) to improve the Yakima River Basin, a major agricultural region in Washington State.

The House voted 363-62 to pass the Natural Resources Management Act, S. 47, already approved on Feb. 12 by the U.S. Senate, 92-8. The measure contains provisions from the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, H.R. 1048, which Rep. Newhouse introduced on Feb. 7 with cosponsor U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA). 

The larger S. 47 package, which contains a total of 91 bills, now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.    

“I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for approving this legislation to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Project,” Rep. Newhouse said, noting that the inclusion of H.R. 1048 will better serve the water needs of the agricultural community, conservationists and his constituents in the Yakima Basin region.

For instance, the Yakima River Basin provides acreage for orchardists, wine grape growers and other agricultural stakeholders, who together pump roughly $3.2 billion into Washington’s economy, according to Rep. Newhouse’s statement.

The problem is that their demand for water in the region currently exceeds available resources, he said, particularly during droughts when water use has been restricted for junior water rights holders, which are individuals who obtained water rights in 1905 or later.

Under H.R. 1048, phase III of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project is authorized and will become law under the signed S. 47 to provide farmers and communities with a more reliable water supply; protect some 200,000 acres of currently unprotected forest, shrub steppe and river habitat; and implement water marketing and banking so that water is more easily delivered, among other provisions, according to a summary of the bill provided by Rep. Newhouse’s staff.

“This has been a years-long bipartisan, bicameral effort and the credit belongs to the state and local stakeholders, agriculture community, irrigators, conservationists, and tribes of the Yakima Integrated Plan Workgroup and Implementation Committee who worked together and compromised to find solutions,” said Rep. Newhouse. 

Their collaboration, the congressman added, provides a national model for water resource management solutions, which also “opened the door for Congress to act to support the state and local efforts in meeting the diverse water needs of the Yakima Basin.”

Congress was required to approve legislation on the project’s next phase because it involves federal land, the lawmaker said.