Progress Edition

Kennewick Irrigation District: Red Mountain Project 60 years in the making realized

A vision nearly 60 years in the making that would bring water to the dry scrublands of Red Mountain was realized Jan. 8, when the Kennewick Irrigation District celebrated the successful completion of the Red Mountain Project. The project, which brought Yakima River water to the mountain, took five years and $19.2 million dollars, or a cost of $10,764 per acre over 25 years for Local Improvement District members, to complete. These numbers are overshadowed by the immense benefits that will be gained for the winegrowers of Red Mountain, the surrounding economies and the customers of KID.

In the early 1940s, KID acquired 670 acres of land on Red Mountain as the result of unpaid irrigation assessments. For the past 70 years, KID had been caretakers of the land, but the discussion always remained as to what to do with the property. Red Mountain land was primarily dry scrubland and thus, the ability to deliver water for agricultural production was critical to its transformation.

In 2009, more than 100 Red Mountain landowners approached KID to form a Local Improvement District (LID). As the owner of 670 acres, KID joined the LID and with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Yakama Nation, an agreement was formed, which led to a new Yakima River point of diversion to deliver water to the mountain’s future water users.

Red Mountain has a growing reputation as one of the world’s most desirable wine regions. Transformation of the scrubland to vineyards will result in the production of fine wine grapes. As the wine industry grows, it is likely that supporting goods and services will move into the area, further boosting the state and local economies. Washington estimates that more than 100 jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenues will be generated through the project. The project also provides environmental benefits, specifically the preservation of 1,200 acres of shrub-steppe habitat, and improved conditions for salmon, steelhead and other aquatic species by improving stream flow conditions.

KID customers will also benefit from the project during low water years. Wine grapes need just 1.5 acre-feet per year, whereas a typical water customer consumes 3.5 acre-feet per year. New Red Mountain customers will have this lower water duty, and the difference will be placed in trust with the state for use in low water years.

Original estimates to complete the project came in at just over $12 million. Through the competitive bidding process, RH2 Engineering was selected to perform the work. As the project progressed, plans were refined and the total cost to install 90,000 feet of pipe and construct new reservoirs came in at approximately $20.5 million. LID participants believe the land’s potential justifies the expense, and in the end, the cost to LID members came to be 5 percent less than a previous estimate.

Funding was provided by the Washington Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River and KID customers. Sale of KID Red Mountain property provided resources to finance $9.274 million of the $19.2 million project. KID customers were earning just 0.18 percent on these funds and now will earn 6.10 percent interest, and generating approximately $560 thousand in new revenue to the district coffers, which the board will later allocate.

With all of the many benefits stemming from the project, it is important to emphasize that it is really about cooperation between individuals, tribal interests and government agencies. Success is the result of the effort and vision of the community, KID, USBR, Ecology, WDFW and the Yakama Nation.

A public ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned at 11 a.m. May 6 at the Red Mountain Intake Station in Kiona.