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League looks to local funding of irrigation expansion

Published on November 1, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on November 29, 2012 7:51AM

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Capital Press

Some Eastern Washington farmers who face declining aquifer levels will learn about their options for getting more irrigation water at the Columbia Basin Development League's annual meeting.

The meeting begins at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 in Big Bend Community College's ATEC building in Moses Lake, Wash.

Included is a panel discussion of the managers of three Columbia Basin irrigation districts. With opportunities for federal financing of infrastructure reduced in recent years, proponents of the project have turned to local funding, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the league.

The irrigation districts are authorized to create local improvement districts, or LIDs, to pay for the irrigation systems. The districts will determine landowners' needs, design the structures, determine the costs to landowners included in the project and go through public hearings. The district would then issue revenue bonds, which would be repaid through annual assessments on the land within the LID.

"Landowners in the LID are legally obligated to pay assessments just like everybody in the current irrigation districts are legally obligated to pay their irrigation district assessments," Schwisow said.

Kris Polly, president of the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Water Strategies LLC and editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine, will give the evening keynote address, "With Local Financing, Why Do We Need Reclamation?"

Schwisow said the federal Bureau of Reclamation will continue to play a major role in the region's federal projects because it owns, operates and maintains the infrastructure.

"We still need Reclamation, but the role is changing relative to how projects are put together, operated and maintained in the future," he said.

Another panel will include several LID experts.

The chief engineer of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will talk about the federal facilities in the Columbia Basin Project. Schwisow said the bureau has to consult with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because the project diverts water from the Columbia River, and there are fish protected under the Endangered Species Act in the area.

In August, the bureau and state Department of Ecology released their final environmental impact assessment and identified a preferred alternative, which is projected to bring water to an additional 70,000 acres in the area. A proposal for a $33 million capital appropriation is working through the budget development process in the state legislature, Schwisow said.

"We'll hear what the league can do to support that effort once we get into the 2013 legislative session," he said.

As the project moves from environmental review and hypothetical planning, Schwisow advised that the process will remain slow.

"It's not going to be fast or without complexity, but it is how projects of this magnitude get developed," he said. "No one does 70,000 acres overnight."


Columbia Basin Development League: www.cbdl.org

Columbia Basin Project: http://www.usbr.gov/projects/Project.jsp?proj_Name=Columbia%20Basin%20Project


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