Gov. Chris Gregoire today kicked off a two-day tour of Eastern Washington, highlighting projects to increase the region's water supply and expand agricultural exports. Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse and Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant are joining Gregoire on the tour.
"I often refer to Eastern Washington as the refrigerator to the world," Gregoire said. "Travel the globe, and you'll find apples, cherries, potato products, even fine-wine -- all produced here in Washington state. And this industry has grown tremendously, even as the rest of our economy has suffered. Together with farmers, producers and shippers -- we've worked hard to ensure our agricultural industry has what it needs to succeed. We've reduced barriers to open new markets, we've traveled around the world to showcase our fine products, and maybe most importantly -- we've grown our supply of reliable water. Regardless of our success so far, our work isn't done."
To kick off her tour, Gregoire today met with the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project implementation work group, which includes representatives from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Yakama Nation, federal, state, and local agencies, irrigation districts, environmental organizations, and elected officials. The work group has been meeting since 2009 to develop a comprehensive strategy to meet the water demands for fish and wildlife, irrigated agriculture, and municipal water supply.
"Over the last eight years, we have invested more than $480 million in water infrastructure in Eastern Washington," Gregoire said. "And after years of backlogs, we have issued almost 400 new water rights in Eastern Washington, and approved more than 1300 water right changes. Yet, the reservoirs in the Yakima basin hold only about 60 percent of the water this area needs. I have asked Dan Newhouse and Ted Sturdevant to accelerate their work on the solution for the Yakima basin, and am encouraged by their progress and the partnership displayed by every party involved."
During the meeting Sturdevant discussed draft legislation to be submitted during the next legislative session that would direct Ecology, other state agencies and officials, and local governments to implement an integrated water resource management plan for the Yakima River Basin in cooperation with the Yakama Nation, Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies, and interested parties. The goal of the legislation is to secure needed authorizations and funding from both the U.S. Congress and the Washington State Legislature to successfully advance the integrated plan. The integrated plan would provide for development of nearly one-half million acre feet of additional water supplies through new storage and conservation, construction of fish passage facilities at all in-basin reservoirs, and substantial restoration of fish and watershed habitat.
Following her meeting, Gregoire joined young students participating in a day-camp focused on water and the region's water supply.
Gregoire today also met with area growers at denHoed farms near Sunnyside, just one of many farms that suffered significant damage during recent storms. In mid-July, storms that included golf-ball sized hail damaged crops throughout the region, including corn, grapes and a variety of tree fruit. Following the storms, Gregoire proclaimed a state of emergency for 16 Washington counties to help assist with storm damage, directing state agencies to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected areas.
Newhouse has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that all relevant federal assistance is made available to affected farmers. In the meantime, Gregoire has been calling on Congress to take action on the federal Farm Bill so that farmers will continue to have access to critical disaster assistance programs following weather-related crop losses. Currently, Eastern Washington growers impacted by weather-related losses are not able to take advantage of two relevant programs -- the Tree Assistance Program that covers fruit trees and grape vines, and the SURE program which covers crop losses -- because the Farm Bill has not yet been reauthorized by Congress.
"These two programs would help our farmers tremendously right now," Gregoire said. "Growers rely on good growing conditions for their success, but you never know when Mother Nature will deal you a bad hand -- like the one dealt last month. Congress must act. I urge Congress to complete its work to reauthorize a long-term Farm Bill so that farmers have certainty and access to the disaster assistance they need."
Later this afternoon, Gregoire will visit Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, where 18 scientists research and develop the latest innovations to improve farm productivity. Gregoire signed legislation providing $3 million to build a new Agricultural Technology Building at the center. Following that stop, Gregoire will meet with Lamb-Weston's staff and members of the Potato Commission and Lamb Weston's processing and packaging facility in Richland. There, Gregoire will highlight work during her administration to expand potato exports. In May, year-to-date exports of Washington frozen French fries jumped from $14.5 million to $30 million, an increase of 30 percent.
Tomorrow, Gregoire will participate in the Red Mountain Pump Back Station ground breaking to help celebrate a new source of water to grow our state's wine industry while ensuring enough water for fish. The governor will also help break ground on a new storage warehouse at Railex, as well as tour Railex's facility to showcase its work to increase shipping capacity.
To learn more about Gregoire's work in Eastern Washington, visit: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/eastern_wa_accomplishments.pdf