Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Staying at the Table: Representative Bruce Chandler on the History of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan

Washington State Representative Bruce Chandler, whose 15th district is located in Yakima County, has extensive experience working with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (YBIP). He supported the passage of the 2013 bill that set the stage for the plan as it exists today. 

In this interview with Irrigation Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill, Representative Chandler discusses the origin and development of the YBIP, its current status, and how the state legislature can help make it a success.

Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Bruce Chandler: I was hired as a laborer in an orchard up in Chelan County in north-central Washington in 1978–79. Since then, I’ve been in the fruit business. I had been living in the Puget Sound region, so it was quite a change. Over the years, I worked for several different orchards and became a manager of several orchards in north-central Washington. I submitted a bid to an orchard in Yakima County that had been defaulted back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For some reason, I was the only one who submitted a bid, so I got the orchard. That kept me nervous for years afterward! I’ve been in the fruit business for about 36 years. It’s been a great life and has been really good for my family. As my time in the industry continued, it was only natural that I start paying more attention to politics and government and how they affect agriculture. Some people that I respected encouraged me to run when Jim Honeyford decided to move to the Washington State Senate. I was persuaded to go on the ballot and ended up being elected to the state legislature. Now I’ve been there for 21 years. 

Joshua Dill: What were the main legislative landmarks that brought the YBIP to its current state? 

Bruce Chandler: For the most part, the YBIP came out of litigation and objections, primarily from the Yakama Nation, regarding water for fish. There is a federal court case on the topic. The YBIP was an attempt to respond to those issues. I don’t think that anyone in the county or the basin really believed that it was going to work out. One of the things that did help it move forward was that the legislature, just a couple of years before, had managed to come to an agreement authorizing the support of a work group developing a plan for the Walla Walla basin in the southeastern corner of Washington State. That actually has had similar constituencies, but on much smaller scale. That success encouraged the people involved with the Yakima basin. I think it helped inspire a resolution that seriously addressed each party’s highest concerns.

Joshua Dill: What was the process by which the plan was passed? Was there broad agreement about the content of the plan, or was there conflict?

Bruce Chandler: I believe that it was passed by the legislature by a wide margin. It had gone through extensive hearings after the plan had been agreed upon, and all the people who had negotiated it had signed on to it. The fact that both the Yakama Nation and the agricultural groups endorsed it was fundamental for its getting through the legislature. It was expected that there would be a standoff forever. I appreciate the courage of everyone who has been willing to hang in there and get this concluded.

Joshua Dill: What is the current status of the YBIP? 

Bruce Chandler: A lot of progress has been made. One thing that has not been addressed yet is the plan’s call for additional water storage. People are anxiously waiting to see if that will happen. The irrigators in particular felt that that was a key part of the plan. That is the last remaining component to make progress on. Now the question is exactly where that water storage is located and how it’s going to be allocated. 

Joshua Dill: Would legislative action be necessary for the construction of that storage to move forward? 

Bruce Chandler: I think the state will have to support it. The Yakima basin is a federal basin governed by the Bureau of Reclamation, so there’s always got to be a partnership among the federal government, the state government, and local governments and the Yakama Nation. The real challenge is finding the place to put the water and making it accessible for different interests. 

Joshua Dill: What is necessary now on the part of the state legislature to make sure that the plan is a success? 

Bruce Chandler: Probably the most constructive thing it can do is encourage people to stay at the table and encourage constituents to keep faith in the process. If those two things occur, we will be able to find a solution. It may not be perfect, but at least it’ll be one that works. 

Joshua Dill: What will be the effects of the YBIP on your district?

Bruce Chandler: I think it will make the management of water and the movement of water from one part of the basin to another more efficient and more predictable. The most important thing for both cities and municipalities and for agriculture is to be able to have confidence that water is going to be there in the future. 

Joshua Dill: What is your vision for the future? 

Bruce Chandler: This basin is one of the best agricultural production regions in the country, and I anticipate that it will continue to be so. People are continuing to come and start new lives in this area. It is an open question how much land continues to be used for agriculture, but that can’t happen unless there is water available. Water is necessary to ensure that agriculture can continue to be an important part not just of the economy but of the way of life of communities in the Yakima basin. 

Bruce Chandler is a member of the Washington State House of Representatives. He can be contacted at bruce.chandler@leg.wa.gov.