18 Dec COLUMBIA BASIN SUSTAINABLE WATER COALITION
Vicky Scharlau, Executive Director
Coordinated between the Washington State Departments of Health and Commerce, a group of Columbia Basin water purveyors and other concerned, local stakeholders began meeting to discuss the area’s decreasing groundwater supply for municipal, agricultural, and industrial uses. They formed the Columbia Basin Sustainable Water Coalition (Coalition) for the purpose of protecting and maintaining the water supply, influencing policy decisions, and directing resources for long-term groundwater solutions. Start-up coordination and facilitation of the Coalition by the state agencies concluded in August and now the Coalition is seeking grant funding to continue facilitation to ensure progress on Coalition goals.
Since the Columbia Basin Development League represents Columbia Basin Project stakeholders and has been the voice for continued development since 1964, the group proposed providing basic administration and meeting facilitation services for the Coalition if funding could be found. The League has a vested interest in the proposed work of the Coalition. The League’s purpose is to support efforts that bolster the Project and foster understanding of the Project, while compelling state and federal legislators and regulators to fund development and maintenance of the Project.
The work of both the Coalition and League are interconnected and interdependent. While the Coalition is focused largely on groundwater supply and the League is focused largely on surface water supply, both sources are options for many water purveyors. Plus, while waiting for surface water, many farmers utilize groundwater, which in many cases—including the Odessa Aquifer—compete with municipalities and other water users. Working separately, planning would not appropriately account for the impact of the other and could create confusion, cross-purposes, and misunderstandings. The synergistic effect of the two efforts has potential to be influential and intentional; more so than either effort separately.
To date, the Coalition has outlined a draft strategic plan highlighting its mission, target audience and key stakeholders, a steering committee, critical issues, and goals. Now, work continues to develop and complete a plan and begin implementation of action items toward goal fulfillment. The group understands the importance of deliberate stakeholder consensus-building. Initial groundwork toward stakeholder buy-in has proven productive, but much work remains. The Coalition must consider interests of all impacted stakeholders in a plan, consensus must be reached on prioritization of identified critical issues, and a path toward addressing issues—in the best interest of all stakeholders—must be forged.
The Coalition has initiated brainstorming for potential solutions but solutions must be carefully weighed to consider established interests and priorities, and the potential for other solutions must be explored to ensure broad support for a chosen path forward.