March 22, 2019

New federal lands bill includes major projects for Washington

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, co-sponsored a major federal lands bill that clears the way for several Washington projects, including water infrastructure in the Yakima Valley.

A newly-signed federal measure clears the way for several new investments around Washington, from smarter firefighting to more protections for public lands.

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act is the largest bipartisan public lands bill assembled by Congress in more than a decade. It designates more than 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, 367 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers and 2,600 miles of new National Trails throughout the United States, including many in Washington.

The bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-WA., and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK. Cantwell pushed to include permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as part of the wide-ranging legislation, which includes 130 individual bills that support new projects across the country.

Washington projects include:

Another project supported by the bill is the Wapato Irrigation Project near Yakima, which is part of a broader irrigation project in the Yakima Basin. The legislation authorizes $75 million to support the project.

“Irrigators, farmers, fish advocates, tribes and political officials have been working on the estimated $4 billion, 30-year Yakima plan for about a decade,” the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, who supported the effort in the House of Representatives, said the future of the region’s agriculture economy depends on access to water storage.

“Not only does the success of this legislative effort show the way forward for bipartisan, bicameral cooperation, but it highlights the years-long work of state and local stakeholders, the agriculture community, irrigators, conservationists, and tribes as part of the Yakima Integrated Plan Workgroup and Implementation Committee,” Newhouse said in a news release. “I was proud to work across the aisle with my colleagues to get this water solution bill for the Yakima Basin across the finish line.”

The bill also protects the Methow Headwaters in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest by removing 340,000 acres in the Methow Valley from consideration from mining operations, Newhouse reports. The measure also supports new technology like drones and better GPS for wildland firefighters, and designates the Nordic Museum in Seattle as the National Nordic Museum, among other projects.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 to safeguard natural areas and provide recreation opportunities, the U.S. Department of Interior reports. The main source of funding is fees or taxes from federal oil and gas leases that operate on the Outer Continental Shelf.

“Every state and county in the nation has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, all without spending a single tax dollar,” according to the Department of Interior.

“Public lands and access to lands are a juggernaut part of our economy,” Cantwell said in a statement.

Contact Amy Anderson, AWB government affairs director for federal issues, to learn more.