Odessa aquifer project progress shared
Bureau must apply for secondary permit for water storage
By MATTHEW WEAVER
A leader of the efforts to expand the federal Columbia Basin Project expects work to be finished within 10 years after construction starts.
"Part of it goes to how quickly the farmers in the different systems can organize themselves and how much construction you can handle at any one time," said Mike Schwisow, director of government affairs for the Columbia Basin Development League.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is waiting for a final record of decision from the regional director on the preferred delivery method, estimated to cost $730 million, and bring water to 70,000 acres of farmland. It would divert 164,000 acre-feet of water from the river.
In its biological opinion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service determined the project would "adversely affect but not jeopardize" the surrounding environment.
"The key words are 'not jeopardize,'" Schwisow said. "If they'd say 'jeopardy,' we're done."
Federal agencies are prohibited from taking any action that would jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species under the Endangered Species Act.
The bureau must apply for a secondary permit for water storage. The permit has been drafted and reviewed by stakeholder organization attorneys, Schwisow said. Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire included $31.7 million in her budget to initiate the expansion.
The East Columbia Basin Irrigation District is exploring methods for revenue bond financing of the pipeline system.
Expansion of the East Low Canal would make development easier, Schwisow said, giving the ability to serve all pipelines throughout the canal. Currently, the canal is built to full capacity north of Interstate 90, but built to half-capacity south of the interstate.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently voiced support for the Odessa project during a question-and answer session for House Bill 1414, which relates to Yakima River Basin water management, Schwisow said.
"It indicates it's on the governor's office's radar," Schwisow said. "He's identified (declining aquifer levels) as a problem his office wants to solve."
Loss of irrigation water could cost $1.6 billion per year in lost revenue, according to Schwisow.
Columbia Basin Development League