Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
New Water Policy Legislation News Conference
January 23, 2003
Good morning. Thank you for coming.
It may seem ironic to talk about water supplies during a rainy week like this in the “Evergreen State.” But we know we cannot take our water for granted.
Today I’d like to discuss our progress and our next steps modernizing our state’s water-supply laws.
Two years ago, I outlined our strategy for reforming these laws.
The need for reform was clear.
We needed more flexibility in the law.
More flexibility to issue permits faster.
More flexibility to deliver water where it’s needed.
More flexibility to accommodate economic and population growth.
More flexibility to make sure our streams have enough water to sustain fish.
We have made significant progress during the last two legislative sessions. We authorized the Department of Ecology to process requests for water right changes ahead of requests for new water rights.
This is important because in some basins there is no more water to allocate. Instead, we need to change how that water is being used so it goes further. In just the first year, Ecology reduced its backlog by more than one-third.
We bolstered the use of water conservancy boards to make water rights decisions. The conservancy boards now handle about 14% of the water-right changes.
This supplements Ecology’s efforts, and frees up staff for more difficult challenges.
We also provided funding to adopt flow rules in many Washington streams. This ensures that adequate water remains in our streams and rivers to support fish species and to support new economic and recreational opportunities.
We’ve also provided funding to lease or purchase water rights that aren’t being used.
This money has encouraged creative agreements benefiting both fish and economic growth.
We also created a simple process for donating water to endangered fish runs. These measures add flexibility to water management, and provide incentives to conserve and re-use water.
We’ve focused on keeping water in streams for fish, and on giving family farms the ability to transfer water rights.
We’ve made progress, but we must continue to use water more efficiently. And we must increase storage capacity for adequate and reliable water supplies.
Cities, counties and water suppliers need additional tools to help them make sound decisions. I am proposing several measures this session to give them these tools. Like funding tools.
The first locally developed watershed plans will be unveiled this year. But communities are struggling for funding. I am proposing legislation that would fund such plans.
This will provide up to $100,000 per watershed per year.
Municipal water suppliers need certainty that their water rights will last as long as they need them, even if they are not using them yet.
I propose that we grant this certainty. This will help municipalities plan for and manage population growth.
I am proposing that we give municipalities also need more flexibility to administer water within new watershed management plans. Municipalities must also make greater investments in water conservation.
I propose that we provide incentives for conservation, including protecting water rights from state “use it or lose it” rules.
We need to simplify procedures for water utilities to drill replacement wells and to move their shallow wells to deeper underground sources of cleaner, safer water.
This will help meet the needs of citizens and businesses. I’m proposing these simplified procedures.
And we want to improve on our earlier water trusts efforts and create water banks to allow watersheds and regions to manage their trust rights.
Finally, I am proposing a $16 million package in the state capital budget. This will help provide safe drinking water.
It will fund planning for additional water-storage projects, and resolve conflicts between agricultural and municipal water-users and the need to preserve fish habitat.
I believe Washington has enough water for all of our needs.
We just need to continue to manage it better.
We’ve made good progress the past two years.
The legislation I’m proposing will continue and accelerate our progress. Our environmental and economic health as a state depends on finding solutions to our water supply problems.
Even in tough times, we must invest in our future.
We will do that with the water policy bills I’m proposing during this session.