Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Cascade Water Alliance
February 13, 2002

Thank you, Grant Degginger, for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here.

I want to thank the Cascade Water Alliance for your leadership these past few years. Last year, we asked you to work with state agencies to prepare a drought contingency plan -- a good neighbor policy to help communities and streams that might be adversely affected by the drought. You did a great job.

We also asked you to emphasize the need for conservation of both water and energy. The conservation message was especially important here given the large audience the Seattle news media reaches. You helped us deliver our message even when it appeared likely you would meet your water demands. I realize for some of you, this cost millions of dollars in lost revenue. Thank you for your spirit of partnership and your actions.

I am here today to affirm my commitment to improving water laws because it is critical to the economic and environmental future of our state.

Let me quickly review where we’ve been and where we’re headed, then I will ask Jim Waldo and Tom Fitzsimmons of my water team to join me for more details about this year’s water reform legislation.

Where We’ve Been
My administration is committed to meeting the water needs of a swelling population and a growing economy statewide. We are committed to meeting the needs of people and fish and we are determined to advance these two principles together over the coming years.

These were our principles last year, and they remain our principles this year, underlining every water reform initiative and defining every outcome.

We are approaching this mission jointly with the Legislature.

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

This legislation helped us get through last year’s drought but more importantly, manage water for the future. It was a meaningful and very significant first step.

This new law created two lines for water-right applications -- one for new rights and one for changing or transferring water rights -- speeding up the long line of 7,000 requests.

It allows local water conservancy boards to process all types of water-right changes and transfers and makes them more accountable to the public.

It creates a tax incentive for water utilities to conserve and reuse water.

It revises the Family Farm Act, allowing family farm water permits in urban growth areas or within city limits to be converted to other uses -- for homes, businesses and cities.

It established firm timelines to set in-stream flows -- something vital to saving fish and providing certainty about how much water is available for farms and growing communities.

And it encourages donations of water to improve stream flows and benefit fish through a trust water-rights program. Donors don’t risk losing their water right and their donations are tax deductible.

Although it seems long ago, we also made significant inroads in responding to last year’s drought.

The Department of Ecology committed nearly $3 million to offset losses in power generation revenues -- because water was instead made available to farmers -- to provide money for irrigation districts to purchase water, for stream-flow monitoring and for water right leases to keep water in streams for fish. Ecology has committed another $3 million for future water purchases and other drought assistance (including funds for the city of Kent).

Since last year, the Department of Ecology has doubled the pace of action on water-right change applications.

From 1995 to 2000, the Department of Ecology averaged only about 120 actions a year on water-right change applications -- not enough to keep up with new requests submitted each year let alone reduce the backlog of 2000 water-right change requests.

During 2001, the agency processed 262 applications to change or transfer an existing water right. This was primarily due to more flexibility and expanded funding authorized by the 2001 legislation, which didn’t take effect until halfway through the year.

Where We’re Going
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 tough as those decisions were, we all understand that we’re not done yet. The hard part still awaits us!

We’ve developed four, interdependent topics for this session. They include:

  • Setting and eventually achieving instream flows for fish
  • Making sure growing communities have safe, reliable water supplies
  • Providing incentives to save water so farmers and others don’t face the current “use it or lose it” consequences
  • Identifying a funding program and investing in infrastructure to make water reform real -- this includes storage and drinking water systems
We are managing our way through tough economic times, but we must take a major step to provide for our long-term safety, our long-term security and our long-term success. All of us here today know a key part of that is water.

Lake Tapps and Puget Sound Regional Initiative
Before I ask Jim Waldo and Tom Fitzsimmons to join me in talking about details of legislation, let me briefly touch on two more things.

I know many of you are very interested in the Lake Tapps project. Ecology issued a temporary water-right permit a year ago. Puget Sound Energy is expected to submit study results next month and Ecology plans to make a final decision the end of this year. I remain very supportive of a win/win solution.

Finally, let me mention the Central Puget Sound Regional Initiative. The initiative has the potential to be a model for sustainable water-management strategies -- to meet the needs of fish, healthy watersheds, a growing population and a vibrant economy. This is a voluntary forum and I appreciate your support and your continued involvement.

And now, let me turn it over to Jim Waldo and Tom Fitzsimmons…
Related Links:
- Water 2002 - Joint Executive-Legislative Water Policy Group
- Washington State Legislature
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- City of Kent

Access Washington