PATERSON, Wash. — The state Department of Natural Resources is seeking bidders to lease approximately 3,000 acres of agricultural land in Horse Heaven Hills between Paterson and Prosser.

The offering is unique for its size, atypical lease structure and the availability of 3.9 acre-feet of non-interruptible Columbia River water per acre, according to a DNR news release. Bids are due April 6.

The site is within 27 miles of processing facilities and distribution centers in Prosser and within 40 miles of such facilities in the Tri-Cities.

The lease offering is unusual in that DNR is looking for the winning bidder to construct a system to deliver the water to the land. To that end, the agency will allow proposals with rental terms designed to reimburse the winning bidder’s investment, such as a long-term lease of up to 35 years and reduced rates.

DNR is looking for the applicant’s ability to perfect the agency’s water rights, financial capabilities, plus environmental considerations such as use for organic crops or preservation of shrub-steppe as wildlife habitat.

“We know this is not a typical agricultural land lease, but we also know that access to prime irrigated farmland is valuable. We want applicants to be creative and propose what can work for them, and us,” says DNR Southeast Region Manager Todd Welker. “We’ve done a lot of work upfront. We think this approach will preserve a valuable water right, generate revenue for public beneficiaries and pencil out for someone.”

To reduce risk, the agency has negotiated agreements and rights of way for the water supply system. It’s also providing water pipeline and pump station engineering drawings, electrical drawings and a project cost estimate of $11 million.

DNR is pitching the land as suitable for row crops, apples, mint, blueberries and wine grapes. It is within the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticultural Area. Upon full development and perfection of the water right, a minimum of 250 acres of orchard, vineyard or berries is expected, DNR says.

Some of the land has grown dryland wheat, and that could be continued until the water system is developed, said Carrie McCausland, DNR spokeswoman. DNR has owned it a long time and leased it in smaller segments and now wants to develop the water right before it expires in a couple of years, she said.

More information, including overhead drone footage, documents, parcel temperature data and email updates about the lease offering are available at www.Paterson2017.com.  

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