Agencies sign contracts for Odessa irrigation water

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Washington Department of Ecology and East Columbia Basin Irrigation District have signed contracts to bring more water from the Columbia River through the East Low Canal to irrigators. The irrigation district is considering options to make the cost to landowners more affordable.

WARDEN, Wash. — Federal, state and local agencies on Thursday signed contracts to divert water from the Columbia River to irrigation-thirsty farms in the Odessa Subarea, but the cost farmers will have to pay remains to be determined.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Northwest Regional Director Lorri Lee signed a contract with the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District to deliver 30,000 acre-feet of water through the East Low Canal from the Lake Roosevelt Project to 10,000 acres of cropland.

Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon then presented Lee with a secondary use permit allowing 164,000 acre-feet of Columbia River water to be delivered to 70,000 acres of farmland that now rely on the declining Odessa Subarea aquifer. She said the aquifer had declined 200 feet over the last 30 years.

The water will support $200 million of irrigated crops annually, Bellon said.

“We’re delivering today real, wet water as early as the end of this year for farmers in the Odessa Subbasin,” she said. “We’re assuring that others down the line will also receive much-needed, valuable water.”

East Columbia Basin Irrigation District manager Craig Simpson said more than $26 million from the state was available to begin improving the East Low Canal.

The district is looking for additional funding to complete the construction. The total cost is unknown, Simpson said, until bids for construction of additional siphons, radial gates and work on bridges have been received.

Any infrastructure improvements that the government isn’t paying for will be paid for by landowners, irrigation district development coordinator Levi Johnson said. The district will use a revenue bond to install pump stations and pipelines and complete siphon or bridge work.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation feasibility study estimated the cost of the project at $700 million, meaning landowners would have to pay roughly $10,000 per acre.

“From our anecdotal evidence and questionnaires and surveys of the landowners we’re going to be serving, it’s too expensive for them,” Johnson said. “If we can bring that down to half, they might be willing to consider it.”

The district has identified most landowners who are interested and eligible, and is drawing up preliminary designs and estimating costs.

The board of directors wants to consider the costs of delivering water to every eligible farm in the Odessa Subarea, which totals about 102,000 acres. The current project can deliver water to 88,000 acres, Johnson said.

“We will continue to try to find solutions to deliver water to all of the congressionally authorized lands in the Columbia Basin Project,” Simpson said.

There could be an option to give a point of delivery a mile or two from the property of farmers who are too far out to be economical, Johnson said. The farmer would be responsible for acquiring easements and installing his system.

Johnson hopes to present rough cost estimates at the next landowner meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.


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