WALLA WALLA - Restoring a river while also boosting agriculture was the top issue today as Gov. Chris Gregoire visited the Walla Walla Valley.
The governor's visit was the start of the two-day tour of Eastern Washington focused on economic development in water, agriculture and bioenergy. After leaving Walla Walla, Gregoire was bound for the Tri-Cities area and Yakima later today.
Meeting with local officials, private citizens and members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Gregoire discussed current and future projects in the area including a major new project to restore historic flows in the Walla Walla River.
The proposed project will pump water from the Columbia river to local irrigation districts in exchange for irrigators leaving water in the river to protect endangered fish species.
"There's nothing we can't accomplish if we work together," Gregoire said during her first stop at Harris State Park in Oregon where the Walla Walla River flows past on its way into Washington state.
Gregoire said her administration has already provided $40 million to the project and is working with Oregon and Congress to obtain more funds. Because of the success achieved so far with the project this kind of collaboration has become a model for other areas, she said.
The governor lauded the cooperation between private citizens, the tribes and government agencies which has avoided costly court battles and instead produced workable solutions to provide water for both fish and farming. "The choice that was made was to collaborate" and not confront, Gregoire said.
The next stop on the tour was the irrigation diversion for the Gardena Farms Irrigation District Number 13 near the city of College Place. At that stop, Gregoire talked with irrigators and members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Walla Walla County Conservation District about current and future plans for increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems serving farms in the region.
Reporter Andy Porter contributed to this report. Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.