Columbia Basin landowners trying to bring surface water to Odessa Subarea

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 15, 2013 

Thirteen Columbia Basin landowners recently asked the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District to bring surface water to about 13,700 acres in the Odessa Subarea, where groundwater supplies have been dropping.

They want to build an eight-mile-long, privately funded irrigation system that would connect to the nearby East Low Canal, east of Moses Lake.

They're working with the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association to plan the project.

Darryll Olsen, board representative for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, said they are ready to build the first pipeline north of Interstate 90. It would serve farmers in Grant, Adams and Lincoln counties.

That will move forward only if the state Department of Ecology, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District agree.

The irrigators association also is working on plans for a second pipeline, also north of I-90, to serve mostly Adams County farmers.

In all, eight pipelines are planned to connect some farms in Adams, Grant and Lincoln counties to the canal. The project was outlined in an environmental impact statement approved earlier this year to provide replacement water for about 70,000 acres of groundwater-irrigated land.

Groundwater was never supposed to be a long-term irrigation water source. But the Bureau of Reclamation never got around to building a second canal -- dubbed the East High Canal -- which would have served farmers in the unfinished portion of the Columbia Basin Project.

In the meantime, aquifer levels have continued to decline, causing farmers to dig deeper and more expensive wells.

The $45 million pipeline project being proposed by the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association looks more like a mainstream, Columbia River project than it does the envisioned second half of the Columbia Basin Project, Olsen said.

For decades, landowners have pinned hopes on the Bureau of Reclamation paying for and finishing the second half of that project. Instead, they will pay for it themselves using private loans.

Irrigators hope the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District will operate the system once it is built. Olsen will be meeting with staff from the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District this week.

Craig Simpson, East Columbia Basin District secretary/manager, said even if the irrigation district is interested in a water service contract, first the district would need an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation.

The district's board has a number of questions about the project, he said. Some of the information presented makes it unclear if a water service contract would be with the irrigators association or the irrigators themselves.

And there hasn't been a determination yet which farmers are eligible to receive Columbia Basin Project water, Simpson said.

The irrigation district is currently working with the state Department of Ecology to figure out exactly which farmers meet all of the eligibility requirements.

The East Columbia Basin Irrigation District is working on delivering water to eligible landowners who are interested in receiving it, Simpson said.

Olsen said the efforts of landowners and the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association complement what the East Columbia Irrigation District has been working on. However, irrigators association is about two years ahead.

The irrigators have a project that can be done now, he said. It's being funded and built by the private sector.

Irrigators hope to see a water service contract by the end of November, he said. They can't take out loans and lock in interest rates until they have an agreement with the irrigation district.

Once begun, construction will likely take a year, he said.

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-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512;

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