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Groups eye state, private funding for Odessa water project





By MATTHEW WEAVER



Capital Press



Backers say $32 million from the Washington state Legislature will help get work underway to expand irrigation water availability in the Odessa Subarea.



The Columbia Basin Development League and Columbia Snake River Irrigators Association are ramrodding efforts to fund the rest of the project, which has a price tag estimated at $730 million.



Groundwater is rapidly being depleted in the Odessa Subarea, and farmers and municipalities in the region are supporting the expansion of the current water distribution system to gain access to more water from the Columbia River.



The state Senate and House have included roughly $32 million for the project in their versions of the capital budget. The Legislature's regular session is slated to end April 28, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the league.



The league members are optimistic the money will be approved, since the same amount of funding is in both versions of the budget.



The state funding is for canal improvements and new siphons at the Lind wasteway, but it does not include any of the distribution system from the East Low canal north or south, said Darryll Olsen, board representative for the irrigators association.



The association recently examined pre-construction work for two distribution lines from the canal north of Interstate 90, and will examine the possibility for two lines south of the interstate.



The association has also hosted several meetings between irrigators and agricultural lenders.



"It comes down now to each irrigator making their own financial decisions," Olsen said. "We learned there is a large amount of private sector capital available from the ag lenders, and a lot of interest in that."



The association plans to finalize the participants for the northern lines by June 18 and begin the process for the southern lines.



The development league is working with the East Columbia Irrigation District to pursue local financing through revenue bonds backed by landowner assessments. The district board is working with financial advisers to examine that process, Schwisow said. That includes gauging landowner interest.



Olsen said the association believes construction could begin in the fall on one line, and on the other three lines in the next year. The system could be operational by 2015, he said, depending on private sector funding, engineering and development.



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