March 20, 2018 League Continues to Advocate for Project
Submitted by: Annick Miller Rivera | Senior Policy Advisor, Water Strategies, LLC
In advance of the President’s budget, the Columbia Basin Development League (League) staff sent a letter to Secretary Zinke (copying Comm’r. Brenda Burman; Rep. Dan Newhouse; Sen. Patty Murray; and Sen. Maria Cantwell) in late January, advocating for the Columbia Basin Project (Project) to be included in the federal infrastructure package.
As the infrastructure debate heats up in DC, the League continues to advocate for the Project and its current phase of development, the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program (OGWRP).
The League has participated in dozens of meetings with Reclamation and the Washington State Delegation on the importance of the Columbia Basin Project and completing OGWRP. OGWRP is an excellent example of an innovative and transformative project that will not only help our farmers, but also the environment and rural communities. Without surface water from the Project, the economic future of the Odessa subarea is in jeopardy. Depletion of the Odessa groundwater aquifer would dry up 100,000 acres of irrigated farmland causing significant loss of income and jobs and threaten the drinking water supplies for nearly 200,000 people.
Throughout this process, Washington State and local stakeholders have been contributing towards the implementation of OGWRP. In fact, the State has invested over $75 million. However, as a federal project the Bureau of Reclamation needs to be an active partner. While the League continues to advocate for federal funding – recently sending letters to the Washington State Delegation supporting funding for OGWRP in FY2019 – we have also been looking for creative solutions to address the cost of OGWRP.
Included in these solutions is the 960-acre Class 1 equivalency limit in the Reclamation Reform Act (RRA) of 1982 (PL 97-293). Within the boundary of the OGWRP area, most of the family farms are larger than 960 acres. Since the cost of replacing their deep well water with Project surface water will be significantly more than the cost of ground water (or even surface water in other parts of the Project), these farms will need to continue to farm more than 960 acres for OGWRP to become affordable enough to be successfully implemented.
Water infrastructure is perhaps the most important, yet overlooked, form of infrastructure in our nation. An investment in water infrastructure is an investment in American farmers, our nation’s economy, its health, and its future. This cannot be more evident than in the Odessa Subarea. The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates failure to address the aquifer depletion will result in the loss of 3,600 jobs and $840 million annually in agricultural production.
OGWRP is a workable and functioning public-private partnership with both state and federal agencies involved. We believe that all alternatives, including funding and regulatory limitations, must be looked at in order to complete OGWRP.
For more information or updates about the Project’s current phase of development, OGWRP, please visit www.cbdl.org/advocacy/odessa-groundwater-replacement.