Author: Julie Brezicha

The Columbia Basin Development League held its 2020 Annual Meeting virtually on Nov. 5, with more than 70 people tuning in. The COVID-19 pandemic kept the League from gathering in person, so the 90-minute meeting took place online for the first time in the League’s 56-year history. The Board Chair, Mark Stedman, described all the changes as “a new dynamic in this world that we live in. We will survive.” The meeting served as an opportunity to welcome new trustees, bid farewell to outgoing ones, update the bylaws and honor some distinguished guests and mainstays.

Three legislators from the Columbia Basin, State Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), State Sen. Judy Warnick, and State Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy) minced no words when expressing the importance of the Columbia Basin Project (CBP) to our corner of the world and beyond. “Ya like to eat? Well, that’s why we need irrigation,” Dent said. Besides that, irrigation is the main purpose for the Columbia Basin and its towns and cities, the lawmakers agreed. Even the tech-savvy companies that dot the landscape of western Grant County would not be there if lured by the cheap power rates and rich land made possible by the mighty Columbia River and its waters.

Construction and design progress continue on the expansion of East Low Canal and at least eight lateral systems of Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program (OGWRP). Two radial gates are planned to be installed by East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) this fall thanks to materials supplied by the Bureau of Reclamation. And, agreements between landowners and ECBID are taking shape. Highlights from the summer included the following:
  • An EL 79.2 Design Agreement was signed by participants earlier this year. Landowners in 79.2 contributed over $220,000 of their own funds by initially paying $20 per acre to have their lands included in design. Evaluation of pump station locations is underway, and a review of pipeline alignments, electrical service scenarios, and costs for each pipe/intake/electrical scenario is expected, soon.
  • Participating EL 22.1 landowners and eligible water rights have been reviewed to serve 16,511 acres, a location for this lateral’s pump stations has been identified, and a pipeline route has been determined. The EL 22.1 Replacement MOU was approved by the ECBID Board.
  • EL 86.4 landowners are ready to move forward with an MOU and the pattern for ECBID design. They are determining the specific parcels and acres to be served as well as water right eligibility.
  • On EL 47.5, start-up procedures are occurring, now, to fill pipelines, test pump/turnout controls and make refinements as needed.
  • Plans are in the works for ECBID and landowners on EL 40.2, EL 54, and EL 73.3 to meet.
  • The Board of Directors of the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) has accepted a $595,000 grant agreement with the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Administration of Grants and Loans (EAGL). The first focus of the grant is on electrical planning and design review tasks including a Grant County PUD Electrical Facilities Impact Study, which will help determine the specific components and costs needed to serve the northern lateral delivery systems of ECBID: East Low (EL) 11.8, EL 22.1, and EL 40.2 Results of the study are expected by early December.

When the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announcement was released in September 2019 regarding funding opportunities for projects to harness innovation, expand the conservation mission and demonstrate the value and efficacy of natural resources conservation, ECBID connected with State NRCS staff to inquire about opportunities for the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program. They began coordination with the four conservation districts staff in Franklin, Lincoln, Adams, and Grant counties and explored potential partnership possibilities; including with the conservation districts, the Columbia Basin Development League, and the state department of agriculture. They also identified key differences in available NRCS programs and associated eligibility criteria; some geared toward public systems (such as District pump plant and main pipeline), as compared to private systems (for pipeline extensions), and of the separate program funding available to private landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) (but was not available to ECBID).

In June, H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act was introduced in the House. The measure is a large infrastructure bill, which provides a total of $1.5 trillion authorizations for a wide variety of infrastructure provisions including roads, bridges, aviation, rail, and water. In total, the bill authorizes close to $70 billion dollars for water infrastructure. The bill was voted on favorably by the House of Representatives and awaits further consideration by the Senate. The League is closely monitoring this bill. In July, H.R. 7575, the Water Resources Development Act was introduced and subsequently voted on favorably by the House of Representatives. The bill focuses most of the resources on Army Corps projects and does not include a Reclamation Title for which the League previously advocated. A Reclamation Title would open up funding opportunities for projects like the Columbia Basin Project.

On Saturday, May 30, a major pump station in South Columbia Basin Irrigation District (SCBID) was struck by lightning, disintegrating a bus conductor and knocking out the facility. Within hours, SCBID Manager Dave Solem was on the scene with engineers, electricians, manufacturers, and other relevant personnel. Luckily, the damage to the station was not as bad as feared, and after 2 days of hard work, SCBID had the pump station up and running. In this interview, Mr. Solem gives Irrigation Leader the details of this event and explains how the district reacted. Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background. Dave Solem: I have been the manager of SCBID since 2010. Prior to that, I managed Klamath Irrigation District for 27 years. Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about SCBID. Dave Solem: SCBID is one of the three irrigation districts that make up the Columbia Basin Project (CBP). Our source of water is the Columbia River. SCBID serves about 230,000 of the about 700,000 irrigated acres in the CBP. Irrigation Leader: What are the main crops grown in your district? Dave Solem: Alfalfa; wheat; corn; potatoes; beans; grapes for wine and juice; apples, cherries, and other tree fruit; and many seed crops. There are as many as 90 different kinds of crops grown in the CBP. Irrigation Leader: Tell us about the pump house that was recently struck by lightning.
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