A federal bill to help the Yakima basin cope with droughts passed an important hurdle Thursday as the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.

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A federal bill to help the Yakima basin cope with droughts passed an important hurdle Thursday as the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.

The bill authorizes $92 million in federal funding over the next 10 years for the Yakima Integrated Management Plan, which calls for wide-ranging projects to improve fish passage into upstream areas, expand water supplies and improve conservation.

The plan, which the state Legislature also has approved, is the results of years of negotiations that included Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, The Wilderness Society, the Yakama Nation and irrigators.

“The Yakima Plan is built on a lot of hard won trust,” said Ron Van Gundy, of the Roza Irrigation District, which faces cutbacks during drought years.

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Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the bill’s sponsor, hopes the bill will help serve as a blueprint to resolve water disputes in other western states faced by drought. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash.

“A coalition of people were working collaboratively to solve the issues, as opposed to continued lawsuits that get challenged in court and don’t give us the tools that we need to address the drought issues,” Cantwell said.

The plan has drawn criticism from environmental groups that were excluded from the negotiating process and say there should be a bigger focus on conservation, and from homeowners who live near lakes that will be impacted by new projects.

At a July hearing, no critics were give a chance to testify. Since then, they have met with Cantwell and her staff, and the legislation passed Thursday did include some revisions that resulted from the meetings. But the groups said they continue to have concerns.

The plan’s first major project would install pumps to enable more water be drawn out of Kachess Lake, a popular recreational spot that already is an important source of irrigation flows. Over 30 years time, the plan also calls for constructing a new dam at Bumping Lake and building off stream storage at Wymer Lake.

The U.S. Senate bill, which could be combined with other legislation, still needs to gain Senate approval, and also needs action by the House of Representatives.