Senate passes Walsh bill extending Walla Walla watershed program

To see video of Sen. Walsh’s floor speech, click here.

OLYMPIA – Legislation extending the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership cleared the state Senate this week and is awaiting action in the House.

Senate Bill 5352, sponsored by Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, would continue the watershed planning effort through June 30, 2021. Without legislation, the program is due to end on June 30 of this year. The bill passed the Senate by a unanimous vote. A companion bill introduced by state Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, HB 1013, is poised for a vote in the House.

“For the last ten years, the Walla Walla partnership has been a model for cooperation,” Walsh said. “We like to call it the ‘Walla Walla way’ – a collaborative process that has brought tribes and other water users together to find a way to provide enough water for agriculture, people and fish.

“Local solutions to local problems are always the best approach, and we’re glad the Department of Ecology gave us the latitude to take this on. Because we had everyone at the table, we’ve managed to achieve great things. But there is much more to do.”

The Watershed Management Partnership, created in 2009, assumed responsibility for planning in the Walla Walla River Basin. Board members include representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, city and county governments, conservation districts and water rights holders.

In testimony Feb. 12 before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, board Chair Judith Johnson said the program aims to preserve sufficient water in the river to support fish, while also providing enough for irrigators and other users. The program manages a water bank with 152 participants, and has entered into agreements with water rights holders not to divert water during periods of high need.

Eventually, Johnson said the board hopes to work with the Department of Ecology to develop a 30-year plan for all aspects of water management in the Walla Walla Basin. The bill requires the program to present recommendations to the Legislature in 2020.