Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Vancouver Kiwanis Club
March 16, 2001
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk about two serious crises facing Washington. Drought and skyrocketing energy prices are serious enough. Unfortunately, we also have a lot of myth, speculation and downright misinformation confusing these two enormous challenges. We have our work cut out for us, so let's at least be dealing with facts.
As you folks living here on the Columbia River know, the Bonneville Power Administration is the place to start when you talk about electricity and water.
Here are the facts.
The federal dams supply 60 percent of Washington's electricity -- and they need water to provide it. In a normal year, federal dams have a capacity of generating more than 22,000 megawatts -- enough to run the computers, refrigerators, heaters, lights and farm equipment to approximately 22 Seattles.
All this power is under the control of the federal, not state, government. The BPA was created through the efforts of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. Congress approves its annual budget.
More than half of the people in Washington rely on public power generated by the BPA and other public producers. Interestingly enough, the City of Seattle does NOT get much of its power from Bonneville -- just about 20 percent and sometimes less.
Here's an important myth to lance: Some people are saying there's little point in conserving in Washington because BPA will send off that electricity to California.
The truth: California did receive BPA power. But over the last two months, it paid us back at a ratio of 2:1. Since November, California has returned 323,000-megawatt hours to BPA -- twice as much as BPA supplied.
That means more power for us, allowing our reservoirs to fill up higher than they would have. But private generation also plays a substantial role in Washington.
Companies such as Puget Sound Energy, Avista, and PacifiCorp serve more than 1.1 million ratepayers.
That leads me to another misunderstanding that needs to be addressed.
There's a lot of talk about why plants weren't built over the last few years to provide new energy as our state grew so fast.
The truth is, the state DID approve six new gas-fired projects for private companies -- energy companies that could have provided 2,786 megawatts of power -- enough for almost three cities the size of Seattle, had they been built.
The state did its part. But it was the companies that decided not to build the plants -- for business reasons. They still have the permits! ...A business decision, not the state's decision.
Furthermore, in addition to the six plants already permitted, another eight plants have been proposed or are currently IN the review process. They could produce enough power for four more Seattles.
On March 6, I signed an agreement with Chehalis Power Limited that clears the way for it to begin construction of a 520-megawatt plant in Chehalis -- enough for 500,000 households.
Plus, a new wind farm near Walla Walla will soon produce an extra 1,000 megawatts -- enough for 1 million households.
I've also been working with Avista, BP-Amoco, and other companies to expedite efforts to bring new temporary power on line based on the following principle: any temporary new generation that increases air pollution above federal standards must be offset pound for pound.
In other words, any air pollution has to be offset later on through other clean air measures.
My point is that Washington has done all it can to put more electricity on the grid. We in the state of Washington took action and approved permits long before there was any energy problem.
I want to tell you what else we're doing.
I'm pushing energy legislation that will require Washington energy producers to utilize more renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, fuel cells and biomass to diversify their sources of electricity so we are not captive to problems with any one source.
The bill has passed the Senate and is on the way to the House.
In the short-term, the real key to reducing outrageously high energy costs is for the federal government to repair the wholesale market structure.
We need to stabilize this erratic market to let California, and now other states, get back on their feet.
We need short-term, temporary wholesale price caps or the Western economy remains in jeopardy.
We need federal action now. While the feds are looking to develop more oil and gas for electricity, that will take 5 to 10 years. We can't wait that long.
Energy isn't the only problem facing us right now.
Let me turn to the drought. It's real and it's serious.
In addition to reducing the generating capacity of dam turbines, drought represents a terrible threat to Eastern Washington farms as well as our forests that could be tinder-dry by summer.
Precipitation is at or near record lows all across Washington:
50 to 60% of normal west of the Cascades and 40 to 50% of normal east of the mountains.
Snowpack is running at 50 to 60% of normal.
Record low flows are being set daily in our rivers.
That's why I announced the drought emergency standing in Alder Lake's dry bed in Pierce County on Wednesday.
But I could have been standing in Riffe Lake's drying bed in nearby Cowlitz County.
I know the Clark County Utility does not anticipate water shortages immediately - since it draws from three aquifers.
Another here's another fact. Not everyone in the state will be affected in the same way by this drought. Some areas get water from rivers. Others from underground water tables or aquifers.
Because of great rain years over the past decade, some drawing from aquifers are in better shape than those drawing from rivers. But aquifers have to be recharged. And there usually is a lag time of about six months or more between surface water problems and drying aquifers.
The Alder Lake water system's wells went dry. Vancouver-area problems may yet come.
Nearby Battle Ground in the past has experienced water shortages. Individual wells in rural areas will feel the pinch if the water table drops. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is losing hatchery trout due to low water levels.
Let me explain what my emergency declaration will do.
It activates several tools the Department of Ecology is using to ease the effects of the drought:
Temporary transfer of water rights. That means that those who have water can share with those who don't.
It also means that if people want to use the water they have for other purposes, it can be approved quickly, in fact, in just two weeks.
We also have a $5 million Drought Account to provide assistance to farms, fish and local communities. This money could be crucial to farmers who are willing to lease back what water they have, to the state or others, because it isn't enough for their crops.
The drought magnifies the need to pass the legislation we've proposed to the Legislature. The package is designed to totally reform our archaic water laws over the next three years. Some aspects of my proposed legislation will help deal with this year's drought, if we can get it passed fast enough.
But don't forget about and don't underestimate the power of conservation. The power of not wasting water or electricity.
I've asked citizens to cut back electricity use by 10%. And people are responding. Tacoma has cut back 10 percent, and Seattle by 6 percent.
Government has been able to cut our electricity use by about 11 percent and natural gas use by nearly 15 percent.
We all must do as well with water.
I can promise you state government will be setting an example for water conservation as it has for electricity.
Impacts of the drought will be uneven around the state. But we are all in this together.
The agricultural industry feeds us all, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, is a major player in our economy and uses 75 percent of the state's water.
When we help the agricultural industry by conserving water, we help everyone in our state.
Our rivers serve everyone with irrigation water, recreational opportunities and fishing resources.
Maintaining river levels benefits all of us.
And clean drinking water matters to everyone.
Working together, we can keep our farmers and industry in business, keep our salmon alive, and keep a healthy water supply for our people.
Bottom line: Water is life. Don't waste it.