Manning: Stalemate on Columbia River
by Peggy Steward
KENNEWICK, Wash. -- The state needs to come up with a credible Columbia River management plan or run the risk of having a federal judge tell the state how the river will be managed, the director of the Washington State Department of Ecology said.
Years of arguing about how to manage the river has led to a stalemate, said Jay Manning at the annual convention of the Washington State Hay Growers Association, Jan. 18-19 in Kennewick.
The way out of the stalemate is to come up with a plan that would allow more water to be withdrawn from the river while protecting fish, Manning said. But many, on both sides of the argument, are unwilling to budge and that needs to change, he said.
"We're down to absolute crunch time," Manning said.
Driving the sense of urgency is a ruling late last year by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland that threw out the federal plan for operating the Columbia River dams, and ordered more water spilled to help fish.
Redden has clearly indicated he is willing to order changes in the way the hydrosystem is operated, Manning said. It's critical that the feds and the state come up with credible programs to prove to the judge that they are serious about fish recovery.
Manning said he was cautiously optimistic that a legislative breakthrough could be found. He said Gov. Christine Gregoire was determined to get a credible Columbia River plan passed this legislative session or next.
The Odessa Sub-Area has risen to the top of state's water priority list, Manning said. The most likely place to get water for the region is from Lake Roosevelt or through negotiating with Canada, he said.
Manning said recent information indicates new water might be delivered to the Odessa Sub-Area sooner than previously thought, although he declined to elaborate.
Black Rock, a storage proposal that would pump water from the Columbia River to an off-channel reservoir for release into the Yakima River, is still alive, Manning said. But the state needs to look at the storage option that would benefit the most people at the lowest cost, he said. Other storage options may have a greater benefit, he said. The key questions are whether the options are technically feasible and whether they are affordable, he said.
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