Author: Julie Brezicha

The work of the Columbia Basin Development League, championing the Columbia Basin Project and serving as its fiercely committed voice and beacon for 56 years, could not be possible without the support of our distinguished sponsors and members. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, League...

DID YOU KNOW? Grand Coulee Dam was built over 75 years ago to help satisfy the nation’s need for electricity at a time of growing manufacturing, industry, and war. Construction started in 1933 and finished in 1942. First water flowed over the spillway on June 1, 1942. • Grand Coulee Dam was once the largest concrete structure in the world: 550 feet tall (almost two football fields) and 5,223 feet long—just short of a mile. • Building the dam foundation required excavating more than 22 million cubic yards of earth and stone--enough to fill 10 Rose Bowls.

Reprinted with permission from Irrigation Leader Magazine: The mighty Columbia Basin Project (CBP) is a Reclamation project that dates back to the 1940s and provides Columbia River water to 671,000 acres in east-central Washington State. Some may be unaware, however that while the entire CBP was authorized by Congress, only three quarters of it have been completed. The delay in the completion of the CBP is now creating serious problems for Central Washington irrigators and communities. Most significantly, farmers in the Odessa, Washington, region received permits from the Washington Department of Ecology to drill deep wells on the understanding that a canal would eventually be built to bring CBP water to the land. However, that did not happen for over 40 years, and as a result, the Odessa-area aquifer is being depleted at a rapid rate. The “ancient water” that is now being pumped from it is old, high in temperature, and filled with salt and minerals that make it ill-suited for irrigation. The decline of the aquifer not only threatens irrigators in the region; there are also 12 communities that risk losing their domestic water supplies. To guarantee the continuance of high-value agriculture in the region to restore the aquifer, and to secure the water supplies of local municipalities, that use of groundwater must be replaced with the use of surface water from the Columbia River. This expansive undertaking, known as the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP), involves large pumps to pump the water out of the river, large pipes to convey it to the Odessa area, and laterals to bring it to the farms. Only now, with a new pipeline built through the OGWRP, are the first deliveries of Columbia River water being made to the region. In this interview, we speak with four Washington State legislators who have played key roles in helping to fund and advance the OGWRP about the importance of the project and the way forward.

As the board of trustees’ chairman Mark Stedman put it during the League’s last annual meeting, the work of the League goes beyond the here-and-now. What happens now matters, of course, but the work that occurs often happens with an eye on how it will impact future generations of Columbia Basin residents. With that in mind, the League reached out to a specific cohort of future Basin residents: those who have already discovered a profound passion for agriculture, and asked them to share their dreams, hopes and visions for when it’s their turn to lead the way. Thanks to the help of Rod Cool, co-advisor of the Quincy High School FFA chapter, the League contacted students from different cities in the Columbia Basin.

While replacing Odessa Ground Water Replacement Project bridges remains a need and focus, in Adams County, some other changes are currently the priority. Two new commissioners are coming in, and one of the people most responsible for recent progress on bridge replacement is leaving town. Funds are always limited in Adams County, so the hunt is always on for agencies who can help share the cost of major undertakings. Replacing all OGWRP bridges (eight in Adams County, two in Grant County) is a big undertaking, but it is the necessary final step of canal expansion in order to increase water delivery capacity to OGWRP lands.

Robin Adolphsen, district engineer for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, said that the automation of the gates on the East Low Canal is about 50 percent complete. “With the East Low Canal, we have looked at all the gates we need to do and we are close to halfway done with them,” she said. “Depends if we continue to do the ones farther north. As the plans progress in the design work, we will have the push to put more of those in.”

Rob Curley closed the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Columbia Basin Development League, the first virtual meeting in the League’s history, with a message brimming with optimism and humor, which seemed to resonate with his audience during a pandemic. Curley, the editor of the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, opened by addressing his reputation as an innovator, noting the dismal state of the newspaper industry and poking a little fun at himself. “You all couldn’t get the horse-buggy maker to come and talk to you all about his innovations?,” he said.
Stay up to date with Project happenings every month.