Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
“Washington’s Water Future” Conference
November 19, 2002
“Washington’s Water Future” Conference Remarks
Thank you for the kind introduction, Jim. Good afternoon, and thanks to all of you for being here today. We are all committed to a better future of water management in our state. Planning a better future requires meaningful dialogue. We have much to discuss here today. And much to do in the days ahead.
The Roman poet Ovid observed: “Stones are hollowed out by the constant dripping of water.” Many centuries later, the German poet Goethe agreed: “Water its living strength first shows/ when obstacles its course oppose.”
What’s true of water itself is true of water issues. Sound water management is such an important, fundamental responsibility. It cannot be neglected, ignored, or underestimated. Water issues, if neglected, will inevitably make their importance felt, one way or another.
Neglecting better water management is risky. It risks the health of our citizens, risks our jobs and economic well-being, risks our agricultural economy and our salmon, and risks the health of our watersheds. Neglecting water management risks our future. Proper water management is critical to our well-being, our environment, our economic success and our public safety.
Today I’d like to talk about our state’s water infrastructure, our watersheds, and our budget.
For the past year, I’ve emphasized the need to invest in our water infrastructure.
It’s not always easy to make the case for water infrastructure investment. Western Washington is known for its rain. Eastern Washington is known for the mighty Columbia River. But neither rain nor a healthy snow pack are guaranteed. We learned this again the hard way almost two years ago. We suffered a statewide drought. Stream reaches dried up. Farmers lost their water supply. The severe decrease in hydropower sent energy prices sky high. Nobody wants to endure another summer like that.
Beyond the immediate infrastructure issues, there are longer-term issues to worry about. Will global climate changes make water shortages a regular fact of life for our state? There is evidence from Battelle in TriCities and from other scientists that our state’s climate is changing. What if the summer becomes the norm for us, over time? Can we adequately prepare for such a fundamental change in our state?
Albert Einstein once said, “I don’t worry about the future. The future comes soon enough.” The problem for us is that even if we try not to worry about long-term changes like climate, there are plenty of immediate infrastructure issues urgently demanding attention. Let me share a few examples.
Three years ago, a federal study looked at our state’s water systems. That study concluded that it will take about $4 billion over the next 20 years to keep these systems in compliance with state and, most of all, federal regulations. One problem-more than 200 water systems have arsenic levels that exceed the new federal standards. These systems provide drinking water to more than 650,000 people in Washington - almost 10% of our population.
Another example: Sixteen of the state’s 62 major watersheds are already over appropriated. So in about one-fourth of our watersheds, there isn’t enough water to meet the needs of fish, agriculture and municipal drinking water systems. And our state is growing. Obviously, this situation will get worse if we fail to act.
A final example: We operate under the eye of the Federal Endangered Species Act. We are subject to its enforcement provisions. Are we complying? We have thousands of barriers to fish passage. Our rivers and streams have failed culverts. Screened water diversions are inadequate, or simply non-existent. We can make major progress in restoring our fish runs to healthy levels. But only if we fix these problems. Only if we reduce conflicts associated with other uses of the water.
There are plenty of examples. All are problems we can fix. We must make physical improvements to water infrastructure. It’s an investment in human health, economic health, and environmental health.
This is why I have pursued a major water infrastructure package for our state. We must address: (1) drinking water systems, (2) water conservation and acquisition, (3) fish passage barriers, and, (4) new water storage facilities. We must address these issues sooner, not later.
The storage issue is not an especially popular one. But it is unavoidable. Our population is growing. We have economic development needs - growing businesses needing more water. We must deal with fish population and watershed needs. While we need to continue working hard on conservation and efficiency, demand is rising. We will not meet these increasing water needs without new storage projects. That’s why such projects are an essential part of our water management future.
In addition to investments in our water infrastructure, we also need to focus on watershed health.
Several years ago, our Legislature made an important decision. It moved many natural resource management decisions from Olympia out into our state’s watersheds and regions.
This was a smart move, and I supported it. Natural resource issues are best managed in comprehensive, integrated fashion. We must look at water supply, water quality and fish and habitat issues as watershed issues. These issues are intertwined. We will not solve fish recovery without improving both water quantity and water quality. We will not solve a water problem for agriculture without considering impacts on habitat and water supply for our citizens. Critical decisions must be made at the watershed level.
People at the local level know their watersheds. They know the problems and opportunities. They are invested in the future of their watersheds. Most of the actions and funding will occur at the local level. So we must focus our energies on supporting local or regional watershed efforts.
Under the State’s Watershed Planning Act of 1998, 42 of the state’s 62 major watersheds are developing plans. Regional and local efforts are going on in other basins, too. These planning efforts will be completed in the next few years.
The infrastructure proposal includes funding provisions for implementing these watershed plans. Because there is a very close relationship between the work of local watershed groups and long-term funding for water projects. Once the needs in a watershed or region are identified, significant funding is required for projects that meet these needs. This watershed conference will review the Phase 4 Watershed Plan Implementation Committee recommendations, which also considered these issues.
We have identified a significant need for funding water projects. We have made a fundamental commitment to our local watershed groups. But they will need money to act. Where will we find this money?
As you know, we’re forecasting a $2 billion deficit for the next biennium. These are tough economic times. Our problems are severe. The question is how far can we move forward when we face such a deficit? How do we move forward when voters just turned down funding for transportation? And when voters passed an initiative that takes even more money away from local governments?
Funding will be a major challenge for us. An important first step is to get beyond the cost issue when we talk about infrastructure and watershed investments. It is crucial that we focus on the benefits-because they are benefits our state must not lose.
Benefits like good health for our citizens. More water for agriculture and for fish. An assured supply of water. We need this assured supply for people, for industry, for agriculture, for fish, and for greater protection against damaging floods.
A sustained, long-term program to implement watershed plans moves us toward sustainability at the local level - today and tomorrow.
Funding water projects and watershed plan implementation will benefit us all. And it will benefit generations to come.
These benefits are not free. Since the last legislative session, we have focused funding discussions on the one billion dollar water infrastructure package developed by the Joint Executive Legislative task force. This was and is a good proposal.
But the one billion dollar proposal comes at a nearly impossible time. We are working with stakeholders, legislators and my cabinet to determine what we can accomplish right now. We’re assessing the implications of voter response to Referendum 51. There are serious limits on the willingness to make major new investments.
But the needs remain very real and very important. The water team and I have concluded that we must try a new approach. We must give this cause a better chance for success.
This proposed approach includes four key elements:
· Prioritize available state financial resources to continue moving forward on critical water needs.
· Pass legislation to let basins and regions fund plans. Provide greater flexibility for local governments to use existing local funding mechanisms for priority needs.
· Pursue modest increased funding for existing water capital programs. Where necessary, add or clarify the authority to fund water infrastructure projects such as storage or re-use. This will help critical projects move forward.
· Strive for federal funding to match state and local funding.
Taken together, these actions will allow continued progress, even in difficult times.
No matter how difficult our state’s immediate budget challenge, we cannot just stop doing the right things. We owe our state as much progress as possible on important long-term issues. Effective water management is such an issue.
We have heard from many of you. We have changed course because of your sound advice. Now I ask for your help to make this new approach successful.
Clean, plentiful water is not a Republican or Democratic issues. Water affects every community and citizen in this state.
In these tough times, with a closely divided legislature, success is hard fought and hard bought. We will only succeed through leadership--leadership by everyone, by the governor’s office, by the legislature, and by leaders in the water community. I promise to do my best to continue holding up my end. I urge you to make a similar commitment. The closer we all work together, the better our chances to make progress. And the better our chances to build the water future our state needs and deserves.