OLYMPIA - When the 2012 legislative session convenes Jan. 9, 2012, what is now the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee will add "water" to its title and list of policy duties.
It will also have a new Republican leader: Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.
Honeyford is Republican leader of what is now the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee, and a member of the Senate agriculture committee.
But the Senate majority party has decided to devote a committee to environmental issues, which meant moving water and energy policy matters to other committees.
"I've been on the water committee since coming to the Legislature in 1994, and I wanted to stay with water issues. I'm still interested in and concerned about energy and electrical power - but I couldn't be leader on both committees, now that water and energy will be split, and water policy is more important to my district," Honeyford explained.
He said his priorities as Republican leader of the new Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee will include water storage, accelerating the water-permitting process and keeping tabs on the performance of the state Department of Ecology.
He says monitoring the agency is especially important now that it's level of funding has been linked to its ability to process water-rights applications.
Honeyford also is interested in bringing the tracking of water rights into the modern age.
"When property is sold and water rights are transferred it can be difficult to keep track of who owns what and where they are," Honeyford said. "All those records are available someplace, on paper, but we could use a better system, and you'd think modern technology would offer a solution."