Aquifer problems spread
All subbasins in Odessa subarea face ground water decline
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Proponents of expanding the Columbia Basin Project continue to promote efforts to bring more irrigation water to farms in the Odessa region -- and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Washington.
Paul Stoker, executive director of the Columbia Basin Groundwater Management Area, asked the Washington State Legislature in early February for funding to address declining aquifers in the state.
"The Odessa subarea issue has now become the Odessa-type issue," he said, noting similar problems have sprung up in Adams, Franklin, Grant and Lincoln counties.
Ground water levels in the Odessa subarea have dropped dramatically over the years as farms and cities have drilled deeper wells to supply their needs.
"This drop in ground water isn't restricted to just the Odessa subarea," he said. "Areas we never thought were actually declining turned out to be declining badly."
Each subbasin in the four counties is facing a loss of water, he said.
Stoker called for a study to figure out how quickly each subbasin is deteriorating.
Once that's determined, the management area will consider plans for replacing ground water to determine their efficacy.
The management area held tours for decision makers to depict the problem.
"People are having a hard time accepting the loss of their ground water, because it's always in the ground, out of sight and out of mind," he said.
The management area is holding a series of subbasin meetings. A meeting in Odessa was standing room only, Stoker said.
"People are beginning to realize the precarious position they're in," he said.
Meetings will take place in March in Moses Lake and in April in Royal City and Connell.
For years, the only option to farmers would have been to drill deeper wells, Stoker said. Now they're as deep as they can afford to go or the water is unusable.
Stoker said two options remain.
"One is to quit using water -- that seems problematic," he said wryly. "If you want to continue existing here, you need to find a connection to surface water somehow. As far as we know, a big percentage of the surface water here comes artificially from the bureau project."