Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Joint Executive-Legislative Water Policy Group
October 23, 2001

Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you for coming here today and for your efforts these past several months. This is an issue so critical to the future and health of our state.

This afternoon we gather in a climate that is distressingly different from just a month ago.

The tragedies of September 11th reshaped America’s political and social landscape and marked a sea change in this country -- but it’s a sea change that sharpens our resolve and focuses our energies.

Will our nation, and Washington state, stop and hibernate for the next several years while we stamp out terrorism? Or do we believe in a better future for our nation, our communities and our families so we move forward with greater intensity?

It’s in this climate of “moving forward” that we gather here today.

We gather to carry on and to recommit to investing in the long-term future of our state; to invest in the economic future of our state; and to invest in the environmental future of our state.

The executive branch, together with the Legislature and citizens, must resolve to meet the needs of a swelling population and a growing economy statewide. We must commit to meeting the needs of fish and healthy watersheds; and we are determined to advance these two principles together over the next several years.

These shared principles are a touchstone, underlining every water reform initiative and defining every outcome -- principles that affirm the needs of both people and fish.

So let me reiterate that water reform is a central priority for me. I’m committed to seeing it through with the help, influence and dedication of all of you.

My office is approaching this mission jointly with the Legislature, to take these next steps in developing water legislation for the 2002 legislative session.

Working together, we’re going to make these next steps in water reform a reality. So thank you to Senators Fraser, Regala, Morton and Honeyford; to Representatives Linville, Kirby, Gary Chandler and Bruce Chandler; and to the members of my team, Tom Fitzsimmons, Curt Smitch and Jim Waldo. All your leadership was central to our success in the 2001 legislative session and will be critical for 2002.

Together with leaders from the House and the Senate, our water team helped pass Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1832, the first comprehensive changes in our water laws in 30 years.

Working together now, we’ve developed four interdependent topics for the 2002 session. They include:

  1. Setting and achieving instream flows (in other words, water for fish)

  2. Finding water for growing communities

  3. Fixing use it or lose it policies (sometimes called “relinquishment”)

  4. Identifying funding for water infrastructure, including storage and drinking water systems

We’ve adopted the first round of water-reform legislation and we’ve provided the funding and people needed to put that legislation to work.

But, frankly, as hard as those decisions were, they represented the “easy” stuff -- and we all understand that we’re not done yet.

The next few steps are going to be more challenging -- partly because the trade-offs grow harder, but also because the solutions grow much more expensive. But we stand ready today to make those investments to secure the safety and the long-term supply of water for our citizens, our businesses, our farms and our fish.

Today we step beyond simply acknowledging the obvious: That water is the lifeblood of the American West. Simply put, that lifeblood will bleed out if we do not invest and strategize long-term -- beginning right now.

Throughout the world, the availability of water will define economic success in the 21st century. Access to water provides the competitive edge to thrive and to prosper. In brief, water is synonymous with progress -- and there will be no prosperity without water.

Our first priority should be to provide safe and clean drinking water for our citizens.

In light of the tragedies of September 11th, safe drinking water for our citizens must include additional measures to enhance the security of our water supply.

Today we have a huge backlog in upgrading our drinking-water systems and we waste an enormous amount through poor infrastructure -- and that applies to the agriculture sector as well.

We know that our water-management capabilities will determine how we approach flood control, irrigation and water-for-fish. Currently, water shortages for fish impact 16 major water basins and the only solution is to purchase or lease water to restore those riparian areas.

Thankfully, this region is blessed with abundant water during most times of the year. It provides us with a competitive edge IF, and only if, we invest and manage it wisely.

We must continue to become more efficient in our homes, in our businesses and on our farms. We must re-use water where it’s safe and practical. We must store more water from wet years and wet times of the year in order to meet the needs of our society. We must be careful and prudent about where we develop storage and how we use it. It’s an invaluable tool -- if used well.

In many river basins, we will need to augment in-stream flows -- yet we can’t take people’s water from them. So we will need to embrace all of the tools -- storage, efficiency and reuse -- to help satisfy these needs. If necessary, we will buy or lease the water to satisfy our environmental needs.

So today let’s “think aloud” about what’s feasible and what’s not.

Brainstorming on water policy is not a unilateral activity: That’s why I invite all of our legislative friends and other stakeholders to participate and work with our administration. We need your help to develop a final proposal. We need your help to develop and implement an appropriate funding mechanism.

We must move beyond the talk and the planning and begin to fund actual projects to restore our watersheds to health.

A couple weeks ago, I announced the allocation of $10 million in federal agriculture assistance to state growers -- and one key component was water storage with $2 million allocated for that purpose.

Amazingly, no new water-storage facilities have been built in the Yakima Basin since the 1930s -- think of that, since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the era of Woody Guthrie writing songs to promote the Bonneville Power Administration!

A lot of people and groups have been reviewing our needs for a long time, so there’s little mystery about the amount of money required. A lot of “thinking aloud” is focused on $1 billion over 20 years -- for physical upgrades and other water projects. This would include:

  • $350 million ($300 million to improve public health and safety, municipal water supply, as well as conservation, and $50 million for reuse).

  • $100 million for agriculture efficiency and water-quality improvements.

  • $350 million for increased storage and conveyance.

  • $100 million for water for fish.

  • $100 million to implement citizen-based regional watershed-management plans.

While it is clear that even $1 billion in physical upgrades will not address every need, it is also clear that we must begin now. Indeed, times are tough, but that’s no excuse for inaction.

$1 billion over 20 years is a lot of money. But with historically low interest rates we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay for these needed projects over time.

It’s been over a quarter of a century since we made substantial investments in our water management system. It is time to act. These issues are not Republican issues; they are not Democratic issues -- they affect every community and river in the state of Washington.

In many ways, we’ve reached a turning point -- a turning point reminiscent of the days of former Governor Dan Evans and the “Washington Futures” initiative. It’s time for another round -- to invest in Washington’s future.

My office pledges again today to work with our legislative leaders -- leaders from both parties in both Houses.

We had meaningful success on water legislation last session. Let us build on that success in this 2002 session. We are managing our way through tough times, but we are must take a major step to provide for our long-term safety, our long-term security and our long-term success. And a key part of that is water.

Thank you.
Related Links:
- Washington State Legislature
- Washington State Department of Agriculture
- Water 2002: Joint Executive-Legislative Water Policy Group
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Salmon Recovery Home Page

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