By: Melissa Downes, LHG | Office of Columbia River Policy Lead, Washington Department of Ecology

Back in 2001, then Governor, Gary Locke, embarked on finding solutions to the gridlock of water resource challenges along the Columbia River. These efforts culminated in a 2004 Columbia River Initiative (CRI) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the state of Washington, Department of Fish & Wildlife, the US Bureau of Reclamation and all three Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts (CBIDs). This original MOU identified the need to improve water management along the Columbia River and within the Columbia Basin Project.

Exploring Water Resource Solutions

The parties through this initiative identified opportunities to explore water resource solutions that would provide for both economic growth and natural resource benefits. The MOU contemplates mainstem storage, drought relief, municipal and industrial supplies, Potholes Reservoir Operations, water from Canada, and the Odessa Subarea.

While some of the goals have been achieved under the MOU, others entail multiple decades of work, like in the Odessa subarea.  The parties agreed to explore opportunities to deliver surface water from the Columbia Basin Project to existing groundwater users within the declining Odessa Subarea.

The Columbia River Initiative laid the framework for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). The state of Washington, through the Office of Columbia River, has been coordinating, cooperating, prioritizing and implementing big picture solutions to this regionally declining aquifer in partnership with the US Bureau of Reclamation and the three CBIDs.

Major State & Federal Investments

What started as the Odessa Subarea Special Study, is today in full swing of implementation with major capital investments maximizing and expanding the delivery capacity of existing federal Columbia Basin Project infrastructure.  Impressively, the state has invested over $90 million and the federal government has invested over $48 million, to expand the East Low Canal and increase its delivery capacity and bring surface water stored behind Grand Coulee Dam to the OGWRP lands.

These monies have provided for feasibility, engineering design, hydraulic modeling, cultural resource surveys, habitat evaluations, land reclassifications, environmental impact statements, mitigation measures, water rights, technical support, conservation efforts, rerouting water supplies and massive infrastructure construction (additional siphon barrels, radial gates, canal widening, bridge modifications, check structures) .

As we are nearing the end of the 2017- 2019 biennium (June 30, 2019), as the last two major siphon barrels are being placed over the summer, and as the first sections of pipeline to deliver OGWRP water to individual farms is being laid, a new piece of OGWRP puzzle will kick off the next fiscal year.

New Pumping Plant & Delivery System in Design

The Department of Ecology received a hefty capital budget proviso ($15 million) to shift its focus from improving the main conveyance system (East Low Canal) to begin designing and constructing the next pumping plant and delivery system, also known as the EL 22.1 system.

While we have not reached the end of Odessa Subarea story, momentum is building.  Approximately 6,800 acres of OGWRP lands have been replaced with CBP surface water by means of early individual direct pump contracts and we are hopeful to have the first pumping plant (EL 47.5) making OGWRP deliveries in 2020. It is exciting to be on the cusp of delivering significant new water supplies to OGWRP lands via the Columbia Basin Project and to see the many OGWRP puzzle pieces come together to provide some much needed relief to the aquifer, the natural resource, the farms and the local communities.

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