Farmers at the moment are making key decisions about whether and what to plant, and they need the certainty of a timely agreement.
THE question isn’t whether the Washington Legislature will approve money for drought relief, but when. Problem is, timing is everything as many Yakima Valley farmers move into the growing season without assurances that they will have adequate supplies of irrigation water.
As we all know, a wet-but-warm winter has left mountain reservoirs brimming but snowpack skimpy. Junior-rights holders in the Roza Irrigation District are among the most vulnerable to a shortage of irrigation water; the most recent estimate puts the season’s supply at 60 percent.
Legislators agree that money is needed to buy or lease water rights and direct water the growers’ way, but the difference lies in how it should be done. State Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, has sought $18 million for the two-year budget cycle from the capital budget, which involves bonding that incurs debt over the long run.
In the House, State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, argues the fiscally responsible course would be a $9 million outlay from the operating budget, which wouldn’t involve long-term debt. Dunshee has signaled an openness to spending about $2 million from the capital budget and $7 million from the operating budget.
This is not just an issue for the Yakima Valley. Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency in Central Washington from Klickitat County north to Chelan County and east to Benton and Walla Walla counties. The drought declaration also includes most of the Olympic Peninsula, too.
We can understand Dunshee’s fiscal concern, which stems from process and precedent and not obstruction. Both he and Honeyford have a long track record of deal-making between the chambers and across party lines, and there is every sign that they can come to an agreement.
The wheels of government can turn slowly amid the give-and-take of negotiations, but this is one time when businesses and livelihoods depend on quick action. Honeyford is trying the capital budget route because he understands that any agreement needs to come sooner rather than later. Farmers at the moment are making key decisions about whether and what to plant, and they need the certainty of a timely agreement.
It’s true, the first week of April has seen some of the season’s heaviest Cascades snowfall. But the forecast for the next week calls for highs in the 70s in Central Washington’s valleys and in the 60s in the mountains. The April showers — both rain and snow — may have bought some time, but that time is running out for the Legislature to act.
Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Publisher Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.