MOSES LAKE -- More water will be available to the Tri-City area by next year under a deal signed Tuesday by the Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Ecology.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said the water pact that will make up to 82,500 acre-feet of water from Lake Roosevelt available annually would be good for fish, farmers and up to 100 communities.
The governor and other state officials met near Moses Lake at the construction site of the Weber Siphon to recognize the importance of the project that is expected to see an almost 15-foot diameter siphon begin delivering water by the start of next year's irrigation season.
A siphon is a way for water to be moved from one elevation to another using gravity and suction without requiring a pump.
"This is an amazing partnership. Today's signing agreement with the federal government will commit new water to our communities and lands," Gregoire said.
Karl Wirkus, director of the USBR's Pacific Northwest Region, and Ted Sturdevant, state Ecology director, signed the water service contract at the event, and now the state can begin to approve water rights.
About 50 of them should be granted by the end of the year.
First in line is the quad-cities' water right application for 178 cubic feet per second. About 10 cfs is expected to be approved initially.
Pasco, West Richland, Richland and Kennewick have equal shares, said Peter Beaudry, Kennewick director of municipal services.
Pasco needs to tap that right away to cover its current draw of water that already exceeds what the state has allotted, said Ahmad Qayoumi, Pasco's director of public works.
"We are working with Ecology because we have a deficit. (This) will help us meet demand for water in the city's urban growth area," Qayoumi said.
Beaudry said Kennewick and Richland have sufficient water supplies and are willing to have Pasco and West Richland use the first release of 10 cfs.
Kennewick has sufficient water supplies to meet its municipal and industrial needs for the next 15 to 20 years, Beaudry said.
"After that time we would need to be going into the quad-cities water right," he said.
Gregoire said once the new siphon is delivering new water, it will support an estimated 35,000 new jobs and add $3 billion to the state economy.
"That's great, great news for ag in our state. We're ready to move this state ahead when it comes to water," she added.
"The west side talks of Boeing and Microsoft providing jobs, but we know 12 percent of our economy is agriculture," Gregoire said at Tuesday's event staged within a few feet of the construction project.
Water gurgled softly into an existing siphon while others spoke of the state/federal partnership to build the estimated $37 million Weber Siphon.
Bill Gray, manager for the bureau's Columbia/Cascade area, said the project is the second part of a double-siphon' the first part was built in 1952. The new siphon is going next to it. He said this is the largest water project in the region in more than a decade.
Sturdevant said the partnership was "a template" for future solutions involving state and federal concerns.
"This shows what can happen when people meet each other half way," Sturdevant said.
In addition to supporting cities and agriculture, the new water will benefit fish and aid in slaking the increasingly thirsty Odessa Aquifer, Sturdevant said.
The Quincy Irrigation District, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District and South Columbia Basin Irrigation also stand to benefit from having more water.
Mark Booker, director for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, said that as a farmer the new water will help.
"I'm a farmer who had a restricted water supply this year, so I grew wheat this year instead of sweet corn," he said. Wheat requires less water, but sweet corn is more profitable, he noted.
Eli Wollman, who farms north of Pasco in Franklin County, said he uses bureau and well water, but the new water from the Weber Siphon will be most useful if it can be applied to land not getting bureau water.
"To make this pay, we need water on new lands. This is a good day if we can make it work," Wollman said.
As agreed to by the bureau and Ecology, the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Storage Release Project will provide 27,500 acre-feet for streams and salmon, 30,000 acre-feet for Odessa area farmers to replace water for about 10,000 acres of well-watered land.
Also, it will make available 25,000 acre-feet for municipalities and industries who have water right applications pending and up to 50,000 acre-feet available in drought years for streams benefiting fish, as well as supplemental irrigation water during periods of low flows.