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Inslee focuses on Yakima irrigation project

Gov. Jay Inslee put his first bill into motion Thursday, which will try to boost the water supply to the Yakima River Basin.

"This is just the start of our agricultural jobs plan," Inslee said.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, introduced the bipartisan bill Thursday at Inslee's request. Inslee linked the bill to his interest in climate change, saying it will help deal with shrinking Cascade Mountains snow packs.

Some environmental organizations have concerns about Yakima river irrigation expansion plans but a number of major green groups support it.

The bill calls for allocating $23.6 million from the state's capital budget for several projects at the headwaters of the Yakima River just west of Cle Elum. Inslee claimed the projects will create 316 jobs.

Most of the money will go to building a pipeline between Lake Keechelus, which is the Yakima River's source, and Lake Kachess, which is the source of the Kachess River, a tributary of the Yakima. Lake Kachess would be enlarged and modified to accept more ground water. A tunnel between Keechelus and Kachess lakes is to increase the water stored at Kachess Lake.  A new dam would be built at Bumping Lake, and the lake in Yakima County would be enlarged to be used as a reservoir for the Yakima River. Fish passages would be built on the dams in this section of the Yakima River Basin in hopes that salmon might migrate upriver of those dams. The fish passages would be installed at the dams at Clear Lake, Cle Elum Reservoir, Bumping Lake, Tieton River, Keechelus Lake and Kachess Lake

The bill also calls for $2 million to buy water rights in the Yakima River Basin to build up water surpluses so water can be easier rerouted to specific targets. And $700,000 would go to managing these projects.

Inslee said the projects will eventually increase salmon spawning areas, at the expense of some timberlands.

Republican leaders said the plan appears to have some beneficial ecological effects. However, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, criticized the bill, saying it would create government jobs and not private sector jobs. 

One of Inslee's main campaign planks was job creation. He wants to focus on job creation in the aerospace industry, life sciences, military, agriculture, information technology, clean energy and maritime trades. He also proposed research and development tax credits to young companies that they could sell to older firms if that is advantageous.

On Thursday, Inslee declined to say how soon he will unveil additional job creation programs.

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