Proposed competitive grant program would fund water infrastructure projects

    Creates a competitive prioritized funding process
    Helps to upgrade existing infrastructure
    Offers a long-term funding commitment
A proposed water infrastructure program would evaluate and rank potential projects related to a variety of water issues.
Senate Bill 5136 would create a water infrastructure program to prioritize projects in four areas and fund them through a competitive grant process. The goal of the bill, sponsored by District 15 Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, is to create a streamlined process to evaluate and fund water infrastructure projects.
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 from existing developments. The program also targets reducing the risk of flooding, protecting against flood damage and post-flood restoration.
Heath Gimmestad is a Moses Lake farmer and member of the Washington State Potato Commission. On Tuesday, Gimmestad testified in support of the bill at the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
“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, and Gimmestad said this bill would create a venue for funding projects to update the system.
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 the applications to the Office of Columbia River, the Office of Chehalis Basin or the Fish Barrier Removal Board, whichever entity is most appropriate. These boards will evaluate the applications and create a ranked list of projects which will 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 requesting. Priority will be given in part based on the larger percentage matched by the requesting agency.
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, adding improvements to water infrastructure would “benefit our generations to come.”

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