Our Voice: Water storage projects still vital for Mid-Columbia

New water storage in the Yakima Basin is something Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has been working on for years.

In February, Hastings proposed a portion of the funding Congress approves for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation be set aside to pay for new and expanded capacity for water storage in the Yakima Basin.

This week, a bipartisan vote of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a bill including language that encourages the Bureau of Reclamation to join its funding with the state for projects we can't do on our own.

The new bill eventually will go to a full House vote.

This week's step is a small one, but it's an important project for the future of Eastern Washington.

And Doc won't be there to carry the banner in the future.

Our next representative from the 4th Congressional District must take up the charge. So must our two senators.

This year, we narrowly avoided a water shortage. Thanks to a significant late-season snowfall in the Cascades, we have enough water for all stakeholders to get what they need.

But without those big storms, we would be feeling the effects of a drought. We have had, and will continue to have, dry years.

Users with junior water rights come out on the losing end of that proposition every time. But nobody really wins.

Water is vital for the Yakima Basin for everything from agriculture to fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the arm of federal government charged with overseeing the delivery of water. In some ways, the hands of the bureau are tied by history and legislative red tape.

Water needs and methods of storage and delivery continue to evolve, yet the bureau is not free to adopt new strategies at will. Even ideas that seem to be obvious improvements need congressional approval.

For example, Hastings also introduced legislation that would allow irrigation districts to voluntarily repay federal obligations early. He added the stipulation that the money would be put into a new account to be used only to build new water storage or to expand existing water storage reservoirs.

Currently, to repay money early, a water district must get a bill signed into federal law. Five water districts have done that in the past decade.

We are a mecca for crops and agriculture. Without water storage and reclamation projects, we revert to dusty desert.

Our climate is changing, and we can no longer count on winter snowfall to see us through the summer. Water storage is important to us now and will be even more so in the future.