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Irrigation district working with Odessa landowners

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Matthew Weaver
The East Columbia Basin Irrigation District is working with landowners in the Odessa Subarea who are eligible to replace groundwater with surface water from the Columbia River. Development coordinator Levi Johnson says the work includes finding financially feasible options for farmers. Construction to widen part of the East Low Canal south of Interstate 90 for water delivery is slated to begin in November.

The East Columbia Basin Irrigation District recently held a meeting for 100-130 landowners in the Odessa, Wash., area who are eligible to receive water from the Columbia River.

Levi Johnson, development coordinator for the district, said he is verifying information with landowners to confirm their eligibility.

Roughly 170,000 acres in the Odessa Subarea are irrigated using groundwater. Of that, about 102,000 acres are eligible to receive surface water from the Columbia River.

That reliance on groundwater in the region has caused the Odessa aquifer to subside rapidly. More than 35 percent of the affected wells will be abandoned by 2020, Johnson said.

“We are reaching farmers who have had to change production systems dramatically because of wells that will only run for a day or two, a couple weeks, a couple months — whereas 10, 20 years ago, they were running to allow them to maximize their production area,” Johnson said.

The district is working on contractual issues with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and addressing the fact no secondary use permit has yet been issued to the agency to withdraw the water, Johnson said.

The district is beginning to design alternative delivery systems, working with landowners to find financially feasible options.

“We’re working with landowners to figure out who’s interested and what makes sense for them economically to participate in the program,” Johnson said.

The preferred alternative identified by the Bureau of Reclamation and Washington Department of Ecology would deliver water to 70,000 acres, Johnson said. The district is also working on the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program, which covers 88,000 of the 102,000 eligible acres.

The groundwater replacement program includes the 70,000 acres from the preferred alternative, 10,000 acres from Lake Roosevelt incremental releases and 8,000 acres from coordinated conservation programs to landowners currently pumping from the Odessa aquifer.

The bureau estimates the cost will be $730 million, the bulk of which will fall to landowners. The district, however, expects the cost to be lower, noting the bureau often estimates construction costs higher than actual costs.

“If the total cost of all these systems is out of reach for these farmers, we’re planning on coming up with other alternatives to deliver this water that meets the farmer’s needs,” Johnson said.

The district hopes to take preliminary design alternatives to landowners by early 2014, with a rough estimate of the cost per acre. The district hopes to begin delivering water in the next two years.

Construction on expansion of 45 miles of the East-Low Canal south of Interstate 90 is slated to begin in November, although Johnson said there are caveats given the governmental shutdown and permitting requirements. The earthwork is slated to be done over the next two winters, he said.



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