Taylor says drought-relief money needed; questions why drought account not funded

State Rep. David Taylor welcomed Gov. Christine Gregoire's request that the Legislature allot $4.1 million for the state's drought relief reserve fund, but the 15th District lawmaker questioned why the account was left empty in the first place.

With the Cascade mountain snowpack at below-normal levels, there is growing concern that cities and towns, utilities and the agriculture industry could be facing drought conditions this summer similar to those the state experienced in 2005.

At a Tuesday news conference, Gregoire proposed transferring the $4.1 million from a disaster relief fund to the drought relief account. The funds would be used to “deepen wells, lease water from senior water right holders, and take other emergency actions to mitigate the impact of a limited water supply,” according to the governor's press release. She said she received majority party commitments that the funds would be included in future versions of the budget.

“Current snowpack levels in the 15th District range from 65 percent of normal in the Lower Columbia, to 83 percent in the Lower Yakima Valley,” said Taylor, R-Moxee, and a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Water Supply During Drought. “That does not bode well for our area's farmers, orchardists and ranchers, particularly in light of the early spring we're experiencing.”

About $8 million from the reserves was spent for drought-relief projects in 2005, which effectively depleted the account. Taylor acknowledged that forecasting droughts is difficult, but once the account was drained, he asked, why wasn't funding provided to the account in ensuing years?

“In her press release, the governor cited the current economic crisis as the reason that drought-relief money was not available in the budget. I can appreciate her opinion, but it fails to address the larger problem, and that's the fact that in the years Gregoire has been in office, she and the majority party increased spending by 33 percent,” said Taylor. “That pattern of over-spending, and lack of fiscal leadership, is what led to the current $2.7 billion budget gap.

“Since the account was last used, Democrat budget writers consistently failed to maintain the drought-relief reserves.  That was a shortsighted budget decision, and now we have to transfer money from another important account to replenish the drought fund,” he noted. “Re-establishing the drought relief account is imperative in the face of a potential summer water shortage, but the fund was originally set up for drought emergencies, and should not have been allowed to languish.”

The drought committee, which was established by the Legislature in 2005, comprises four senators and four representatives selected biennially.

Among its responsibilities, the panel keeps tabs on the history, current conditions and outlook for drought, and develops plans and policy to improve the state's preparation and drought-response programs. When drought conditions occur, the committee evaluates the agricultural, economic and environmental impacts and makes recommendations on appropriate budgetary and legislative action to address decreased water supply.

“Our water resources are already stretched, and a drought would have a far-reaching economic impact on the entire state. I will be working with my fellow committee members to address this year's potential drought conditions, and continue to seek additional long-term solutions to the basin's water needs,” Taylor concluded.

For more information, contact: Bill Taylor, Senior Information Officer: (360) 786-7074

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov