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Irrigation district gears up for Odessa project


By MATTHEW WEAVER



Capital Press



An Eastern Washington irrigation district is starting to gear up for expanding into more of the Odessa Subarea as it awaits word from the federal government on which farmers are eligible to receive water from the Columbia River.



Craig Simpson, manager of the East Columbia Irrigation District in Othello, Wash., said the district has not yet met with any landowners.



"We've been formulating what we're going to do to implement the development of the Odessa," he said.



The district is waiting for an initial list of eligible landowners from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Washington Department of Ecology. Then the district can begin gathering information about the landowners' interest or concerns regarding replacing well water with surface water from the river, Simpson said.



Groundwater has been receding in the area, meaning irrigators and other water users in the area could run out.



The district is advertising for a development coordinator and several other positions to help with Odessa efforts. One position would work with a geographic information systems database, sending out a survey to eligible landowners, Simpson said.



In the meantime, the district and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on designs for the project.



The district has not yet determined whether it will use local improvement districts -- known by the acronym LIDs -- or another type of financing, Simpson said. The total cost of the project is still being determined.



Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed Washington House Bill 1416 into law to allow irrigation districts to create LIDs.



LIDS allow property owners to pay for their portion of a project over a period of years instead of having to pay all costs upfront.



Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, sponsored the bill.



The new law provides irrigation districts the same financing abilities as local governments for LIDs. The bill updates the law to ensure any revenue bonds that are issued are repaid by LID assessments supported by landowners.



Another update removes an agricultural land exemption from assessments, since the irrigation district LID is meant to directly benefit agricultural properties.



According to House Republicans, the bureau estimates it will cost approximately $75 million to expand the East Low Canal. About $32 million for the project is included in the House and Senate capital budget proposals. That budget is yet to be passed.



"I'm committed to ensuring the capital budget includes necessary funding for the Odessa Subarea, and I believe everyone involved understands its importance to our region and state," Warnick said. "The purpose of the capital budget is to fund critical infrastructure in our state for projects that will create jobs and last the life of the 30-year bonds, and the East Low Canal expansion more than meets those qualifications.



"Nearly 5,000 jobs depend on irrigation in Lincoln and Adams counties, so we can't afford not to move forward with this plan," she said.



The LID bill passed the House and Senate unanimously during the regular session and goes into effect July 28.



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