OLYMPIA — A newly proposed water infrastructure program would evaluate and rank proposed water-related projects.
Senate Bill 5136 would create a water infrastructure program for priority projects and fund them through a competitive grant process. The goal of the bill, which is sponsored by District 15 Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, is to create a streamlined process for evaluating the necessary water infrastructure projects and fund them.
The bill proposes the legislature spend $500 million biennially for a total of up to $5 billion. Concerns surrounding the bill were where the funding would come from and whether there is room in the capital budget to fund the program this year.
The project areas are increasing water availability for beneficial out-of-stream water use, improving fish passage and reducing storm water pollution specifically from existing developments. The project also targets reducing the risk of flooding, protecting against flood damage and post-flood restoration.
Moses Lake farmer and member of the Washington State Potato Commission, Heath Gimmestad, testified in support of the bill at the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee on Tuesday.
“Surface water is cleaner, renewable and less expensive,” said Gimmestad in comparison to deep well systems.
Moses Lake is currently on a deep well system, which Gimmestad noted could receive funding for an update to the system if the bill is passed.
Under the bill a government agency must sponsor a project and then apply to the water infrastructure program. After all applications are collected the department will give them to the Office of Columbia River, the Office of Chehalis Basin, or the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board, whatever entity is most appropriate. These entities would then evaluate the applications and create a ranked list of projects, which would then be sent to the appropriate committee in the legislature.
The sponsoring entity is required to match at least 25 percent of the funding they are asking for and the larger the percentage matched the high priority the proposal will receive. Tom Davis, director of government relations at the Washington State Farm Bureau, testified in support of the bill.
“To us as we look at this bill, it really is about legacy,” said Davis.