Washington State Groundwater Association

Governor Locke’s State of the State Address
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The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Bill Looks Like a Salmon Bill, Smells Like a Salmon Bill…But No, It’s a Water Resources Bill!

January 1999 — First, a little history lesson. In 1998 the Washington State Legislature passed TWO major pieces of legislation of significant weight. They were HB 2514 – the “Watershed Planning/Management” bill – and HB 2496 – the “Salmon Recovery Act”. Sounds pretty responsible, wouldn’t you agree? They have already been forgotten since the Governor rolled out his grand plan to save the salmon! All that would have to be done is fund the two bills (passed last year) with the $62,000,000 earmarked for this year’s “salmon recovery” legislation. Funding last year’s agreed upon legislation by “all” stakeholders including the Governor would go a long way in solving the problems facing the State of Washington. But no, the 1998 legislation that would solve the water resources problems facing “Families, Fish and Farms.” How soon politicians forget to look at the solutions that are right in front of them.

Then came the threat from the Federal Government, that plans on listing the Central Puget Sound Chinook Salmon as “threatened or endangered.” Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Washington can just tell the Feds to go away; “We’ve got the plans in place to solve the perceived problems facing salmon stocks in the state of Washington!”

Then, on January 19, 1999, Gov. Gary Locke released the first complete draft of the statewide salmon recovery strategy and called on legislators to begin implementing the strategy by adopting comprehensive legislation to update Washington’s antiquated water laws.

At his news conference in Olympia, Locke released the first complete draft of a salmon strategy developed by his Joint Natural Resources Cabinet (JNARC) over the past year.

The final strategy will be submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) this summer for approval. However, Locke said he isn’t waiting for Federal approval to begin efforts to recover salmon runs. NOTE: It is anticipated that NMFS’ listing of the Central Puget Sound Chinook Salmon as “endangered or threatened” will be as early as March 9, 1999.

“We know the key to saving salmon and protecting our long-term economic vitality is to solve the water gridlock in this state,” Locke said. “Salmon cannot survive in streams that are too polluted, too warm or too shallow — and our communities cannot survive unless we find new sources of water to meet their long-term needs.”

Locke’s proposed legislation, entitled Water for People and Fish, would make conserving and re-using water a top priority throughout Washington. It also would step up enforcement of water laws and allow greater flexibility in managing water use for current and future needs.

“This legislation focuses on fish, but it’s also about the people who are living and working and doing business here in the state of Washington,” Locke said. “Salmon and humans both need a plentiful supply of clean, cool water to survive. These steps to protect salmon are necessary to secure the preservation of our state’s natural resources.” The Governor’s bill is not “salmon recovery;” it is about “water resources”, period! Look at the list of provisions found in the Governor’s legislation, and you tell me, “does SB 5289 look like a ‘salmon recovery bill’ or just another deceitful plot to stop growth and economic development?” You’ve already got the answer, I’m sure.

Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Improving agriculture irrigation systems to conserve water.
  • Creating efficiency standards for water use.
  • Launching projects to re-use treated water where drinking-quality water is not needed.
  • Providing funding to purchase privately held water rights and place them in “water trusts” to help restore stream flows.
  • Authorizing private entities to hold trust water rights, and thus augment the statewide salmon recovery efforts.
  • Establishing a system to account for groundwater withdrawals by new wells.
  • Allowing the Department of Ecology to process changes to water rights ahead of requests for new water rights, thus making it easier to free up water for salmon recovery, economic development or other uses.
  • Hiring more water-enforcement personnel and raising penalties from a maximum of $100 to a maximum of $25,000.

The legislation has received hearings in the Senate Environmental Quality and Water Resources Committee. The House Agriculture and Ecology Committee also is scheduling hearings.

The time has come to notify your members of the Washington State Legislature and Governor Gary Locke that “enough is enough!” We need to fund the legislation (HB 2514 & HB 2496) passed by the 1998 Legislature. Simple as that! Put the $62,000,000 to work in achieving the intent of 2514 & 2496 and Washingtonians will have done their part for Families, Fish and Farms!

~ Mike Matson