Walsh bill extending Walla Walla watershed program sent to governor

OLYMPIA – The state House gave final approval Thursday to a bill extending the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership, sending the bill to the governor to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 5352, sponsored by Sen. Maureen Walsh, continues the watershed planning effort through June 30, 2021. Launched in 2009, the partnership assumed responsibility for planning in the Walla Walla River basin. Without action by this year’s Legislature, the program is due to end on June 30.

The bill passed the House unanimously, 96-0. The Senate passed the bill March 5, also by a unanimous vote, 48-0.

“The Walla Walla Watershed Management Project is a model for the state,” Walsh said. “The partnership was able to gather together the key stakeholders and reach agreements that protect water rights, while keeping enough water in the river to maintain fish runs. Because this approach brought all interested parties to the table, it was able to craft local solutions to local problems.

“The success this program has had so far demonstrates we should keep it going until it can finish its work.”

The program aims to find ways to allocate sufficient water for agriculture, water and fish, while respecting water rights and Washington water law. The partnership’s board includes representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla 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 has created a water bank with 152 participants, entering into agreements with water rights holders not to divert water during periods of high need.

The board plans to work with the state 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.