(Reprinted with permission from author and the original source Agricultural and Rural Issues Caucus)
By: Don Schwerin | Ag and Rural Caucus, chair

Nearly a year ago Ben Serr on contract with the Department of Commerce started a series of meetings to discuss monitoring groundwater levels in the FLAG counties (Franklin, Lincoln, Adams, and Grant). The concern is declining groundwater in the aquifers. The target stakeholders were Group A and Group B water system purveyors, i.e., municipal authorities and smaller regulated purveyors. Private, residential water systems were outside the scope.

Ben’s initial problem statement was modest, and no surprise to the municipalities experienced in the earlier GWMA (Columbia Basin Ground Water Management Area) study. GWMA reported in 2012

Municipal and non-municipal wells inside GWMA show a combination of (1) water level declines, (2) geochemical parameters indicative of fossil-aged water, and (3) no evidence in many areas of modern recharge.

Ben held a series of meetings throughout the Columbia Basin, starting with the narrow focus of designing and funding GWMA-type monitoring that would provide reliable longitudinal data about the health of the aquifers.

The stakeholders, however, have moved to complement the monitoring initiative with attention to longer-term solutions and by recognizing the continuity of ground- and surface water. Again, GWMA:

One approach consists of reducing groundwater-supplied irrigation pumping to reduce stress on the aquifer system and provide a corresponding reversal or slowing of the rate at which water levels in municipal wells are declining.

This continuity, of course, is precisely what the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Project is about, and now fuels water-resource talk about completing the Columbia Basin Project with construction of the East High Canal.

The result is the Columbia Basin Sustainable Water Coalition, an advocacy group that has emerged from Ben’s workshops.  It is being carried forward by the significant stakeholders of mid-Columbia Basin. Members range from Lincoln County commissioners to the Warden Hutterian Brotherhood. It is potent politically. The initial policy agenda is (1) to design a ground-water monitoring and secure long-term funding, and (2) partner with the Columbia Basin Development League to lobby for completing of the Columbia Basin Project.

The Columbia Basin Sustainable Water Coalition is a model of a community of interests coming together to achieve a common objective. As the coalition moves into an advocacy role, however, it needs to be careful about how it defines itself. Water issues almost always involve public money and are usually about connectedness. These are big-tent issues that do not yield to narrow partisanship. It needs to move forward in the same spirit of community with which Ben inaugurated the project.

I encourage you to support the Columbia Basin Sustainable Water Coalition and along the way learn more about how our communities, economies, and natural resources are married.

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