Our Voice: Thumbs up to visitor-friendly Taste and Tote programs

Pack it out

Tourism and winery officials are extending the Taste and Tote program for two years.

By allowing Alaska Airline passengers to check a case of wine on their homeward flight for free, the 2-year-old pilot program makes it easier for out-of-town visitors to buy Washington wine.

Previously, visitors who flew into Washington from other states either had to limit their purchase to what they could fit in their suitcase, pay expensive fees for express shipping or pay airline baggage fees.

The free wine check-in has been a key offering of the Taste and Tote program, which also provides visitors to the Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities and Walla Walla wine regions with other perks, such as waived tasting fees by showing an Alaska Airlines boarding pass and discounts and waived drop-off fees from Hertz Rent-a-Car.

Taste and Tote will extend into 2016 through the continued partnership of Washington Wine Country -- a collaboration of Yakima Valley Tourism, the Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau and Tourism Walla Walla -- Alaska Airlines and Hertz Rent-A-Car.

Passengers flying from the Tri-Cities Airport, Yakima Air Terminal and Walla Walla Airport have taken home about 200 cases of wine a month during the pilot program.

Passengers will be required to be a member of Alaska Airlines' frequent flier program to check-in wine for free. Many traveling on the airline are already members. And for the those who are not, it's easy to join.

More importantly, the Taste and Tote has the potential to help make Washington a vacation destination for wine lovers from around the country.

Clueless in D.C.

Thumbs down to the Obama administration for a Forest Service directive that could delay or derail the implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and 41 other members of Congress recently sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to withdraw the Forest Service's recently proposed Groundwater Resource Management Directive.

It has taken decades for the diverse water users dependent on Yakima Basin to agree on a water plan, but their hard-won proposal expands and builds reservoirs, provides fish passage at dams in the basin, improves irrigation and water delivery infrastructure, and invests in fish and wildlife improvement.

It meets the needs of water users representing agriculture, municipal, tribal and environmental interests in the basin, said Larry Martin of Yakima.

Martin spoke and submitted written testimony on behalf of the National Water Resources Association at a recent hearing on the Forest Service and other proposed regulations before the House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee.

"The Forest Service directive could delay or derail the implementation of this vital, innovative and broadly supported plan, including already approved projects, which will provide water for fish and habitat," Martin said.

That's the exact opposite of what the federal government ought to be doing. The compromise hammered out over years by regional interests with a direct stake in the Yakima Basin deserves the nation's full support.