MOSES LAKE, Wash. — Money remains the biggest stumbling block for getting water from the Columbia River delivered to farms in the Odessa subarea to replace declining wells, leaders say.
Affordability to the farmer is the biggest issue, said Clark Kagele, an Odessa farmer and secretary of the Columbia Basin Development League, during the group’s annual meeting Nov. 1 in Moses Lake, Wash.
Kagele estimated the cost of a pipeline to his farm would range from $280 to $346 per acre at different points, plus the cost of water. That’s double what he’s paying right now for deep-well irrigation, he said.
Kagele operates five wells, all of which have previously failed and had to be replaced. Three are deeper than 2,000 feet and two are at 1,400 feet.
The last well he replaced cost roughly $3,800 per acre, he said.
About 90,000 acres in the Odessa region are slated to receive water from the river. About 22,000 acres of crop circles would still be drawing from the Odessa aquifer even when the groundwater replacement program is complete, Kagele said, calling it “unsustainable.”
Finishing the federal Columbia Basin Project needs to be the next step in getting as many farms off the aquifer as possible, he said. Congress originally authorized 1.03 million acres for irrigation from the river in 1943, but the project currently serves 694,000 acres.
The sense of urgency varies among farmers, said Jed Crowther, development coordinator for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District,
“Some people can look today and think their well’s still operational and they’re not too uptight about planning for 10 or 20 years from now,” Crowther said. “I have heard some landowners say they can’t afford not to invest in the replacement program, and on the flip side, I’ve heard from others that need to reduce the cost before they can participate.”
“You might be surprised how much coordination it takes,” said Nate Andreini, district engineer for the irrigation district. “We’ve got farmers out there and they’re used to running their own business, turning their own wells on and off and getting together as a group to be served by a single system operated by the district, there’s a lot of education and everyone comes at it from a different perspective.”
“Every single city and town in Adams County has had declining well issues,” said Stephen McFadden, economic development director for Adams County, citing challenges in Othello, Lind and Ritzville. “If those wells continue to decline for those municipalities, that means the potential ruin for a community.”
McFadden said there are multiple viewpoints about how the project should be funded, but finishing it would benefit the entire region.
Andreini, the engineer, said an effort of the project’s “massive” scope has never been tackled before. Bringing everybody together will take time, he said.
Earlier this year, an effort to revise the benefit-cost analysis for continuing the second half of the federal Columbia Basin Project opened the door for increased federal funding, which many leaders cited as a hopeful sign.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said during his keynote address that farmers and the project have a major potential supporter in President Donald Trump, who could include funding for it in his budget. This year, the project’s leaders are requesting $10 million for the project, he said.
“We have a builder in the White House right now,” Newhouse said. “We’re trying to appeal to the sense that President Trump likes to build things, likes to see things accomplished. The Columbia Basin is a perfect place for him to be able to put his mark on something in this country.”
Newhouse called for a bipartisan effort to support the project.
“If we keep banging on the drum, the drum’s going to be (worn) out, but we may get somewhere,” said Kagele, the farmer.