The drought promises to have a significant effect on our state’s agricultural production, and the state House needs to support funding to help farmers.
THERE are many issues that faced the Legislature this year that have been subject to partisan differences and political wrangling. Ensuring that farmers across the state have the water they need to bring their crops to market should not be one of those issues.
In March, the governor declared a drought emergency for portions of the state and recently expanded that declaration to include the entire state. The state Senate responded quickly to this urgent problem by passing legislation during the first special session aimed at providing emergency drought-relief funding.
During public testimony, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate and House were informed that some irrigation districts are currently facing severely low water supplies. Gov. Jay Inslee’s declaration brought attention to the challenges many families, farms and junior-water-rights holders will face this year as a result of lacking water.
Bringing this issue to the general public’s attention, however, is not enough. This is especially true when large cities continue to highlight their water security, failing to recognize the statewide effects and that an overwhelming percentage of water usage in the state is for agricultural purposes.
Despite the governor’s declaration, expert testimony and sensible legislation, the House failed to bring the Senate measure to a vote, leaving thousands of our neighbors, agricultural producers and small businesses in need of immediate help. SB 6125 would provide $18 million in emergency funding and direct the state Department of Ecology to prioritize those resources to alleviate immediate hardships caused by drought conditions. But this approach won’t work if the House fails to move this critical piece of legislation.
Consider that this drought will have a significant effect on our state’s agricultural production, not just now but into the future. And this comes on the heels of the recent port slowdown that cost people in our communities significantly, such as the local hay producer who lost $7 million during the port slowdown because international buyers could not receive his product.
Between the drought and lack of attention by the House to this issue, our farmers are being hit especially hard. However, the fiscal impacts to farmers’ bottom lines are just the beginning: The apple industry alone supports 60,000 jobs in our state, and those workers took a hit while apples rotted on the dock. The risks associated with inaction on the drought will mean additional uncertainty to workers’ livelihoods that could prove costly.
Given the severity of the situation, we must act quickly to provide our state agencies responding to this emergency the resources they need. The Department of Ecology has proposed using funds for irrigation assistance, water leasing and acquisition, municipal water supplies, fish protection, emergency well-pumping mitigation and more. Without passing this bill, communities around our state will be faced with far fewer options for weathering the drought.
The state can fund the programs necessary to deal with the drought. However, budget delays have necessitated the passage of a stand-alone bill. As budget negotiators finalize details of a state’s operating budget that reflects diverse opinions on spending and policy decisions, they should consider that drought relief is something we should all agree on.