Obtaining federal funding for expanding the Columbia Basin Project is the top priority for the newly re-elected chairman of the Columbia Basin Development League.
Milton Johnston was recently re-elected as chairman of the league, after first serving in 2013. According to league by-laws, terms are limited to two years.
Last year, the organization was successful in working with other stakeholders to complete the environmental impact statement for getting irrigation water from the Columbia River to farms that now pump from the Odessa Subarea aquifer, Johnston said. The Washington State Legislature appropriated $31 million for expanding the East Low Canal south of Interstate 90. The aquifer is running low on water.
Johnston intends to pursue federal funding to complete the expansion and build infrastructure.
“We do a good job of talking to our Olympia legislators, and we’ve done an OK job of talking to the federal legislators, but I think we need to up our game a bit,” he said. “We need additional funding to be able to play on the national level.”
The league has hired lobbyists to help with advocacy in Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The ultimate goal is to finish the project, which is overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. More than 600,000 of the 1,029,000 total acres are irrigated from the river now, and the league hopes to see the remaining acres completed.
The league continues to work with local irrigation districts and other stakeholders to build support for the project, as well as maintaining existing infrastructure, Johnston said.
“We believe this is a very important thing,” he said. “We have a real need to solve the Odessa problem and hopefully finish the project.”