OGWRP focus turns to county bridges

OGWRP focus turns to county bridges

Article courtesy of Mike Schwisow, Director of Government Relations

A current challenge facing Columbia Basin Project (Project) partners and stakeholders is the crisis of the Odessa Aquifer depletion. To date, the Project has been sustained through effective public and private collaborations and the solution to the Odessa Aquifer crisis is no different. Project partners and stakeholders have identified a vetted solution to the crisis of Odessa Aquifer depletion that provides for the greatest public benefit. That solution is to bring available and renewable surface water from the Columbia River to replace depleting ground water in the Odessa Aquifer through the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program (OGWRP).

Significant progress has been made to date on the OGWRP. The construction projects undertaken through the current Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River (OCR) grant to East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) are nearly complete.  Now, attention is being refocused on county road bridges crossing East Low Canal (ELC) as well as other “backbone” elements of the OGWRP.

The current OCR grant has funded construction of the Lind Coulee Siphons 1 and 2 and control structures, the Warden Siphon, a new bridge at the Leisle Road crossing, a canal prism restructuring at the Calloway Road crossing, and excavation to widen 43 miles of the Canal.

While much has been accomplished, several projects remain for East Low Canal including Kansas Prairie Siphons 1 and 2, four canal control structures, and the final earthwork necessary to blast out basalt outcroppings encountered during the canal excavation. The price tag, including construction contingency, is about $15.5 million. ECBID is working with OCR and Reclamation to identify funding options for these projects.

Another project is the county road bridge replacements. During the excavation portion of the project, ECBID crews could not widen the canal when they encountered a bridge. Doing so would have rendered the bridge useless; the canal would have been wider than the span of the bridge. However, until canal widening under bridges occurs, East Low Canal flow capacity must remain at pre-OGWRP levels, thus, the need for longer bridges or no bridges. Each of two Grant County and eight Adams County bridges represent a bottleneck to full-capacity flows needed to serve the OGWRP distribution systems. Bridge replacement could be postponed while other work like siphons and excavation was being done, but now is the time to address bridge replacements. Cost estimates for bridge replacements come in at about $1 million each. OCR and Reclamation are working to recruit partners, including local counties, in the effort to seek funding from the State of Washington or Federal Government.

Calloway Bridge
Calloway Bridge in Adams County. Due to the design and relative newness of the bridge, ECBID was able to make key updates rather than replace the bridge entirely.

In late 2014, the ECBID Board of Directors sent letters to respective County Commissions regarding the bridges. They requested that each Commission consider vacating one bridge—a difficult proposition-- which the Commissioners took under advisement.

OCR Director Tom Tebb and local Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) officials recently reached out to reengage on the issue during meetings with Grant and Adams County Commissions. The meetings provided an opportunity to update the Commissioners on the current status of East Low Canal improvements and how bridge replacement fits into the overall OGWRP timeline. Reclamation provided background on the original construction of East Low Canal and the development of bridge crossings. Similar to transferred works like the canals, RECLAMATION constructed the original facilities, and then transferred ownership, including ongoing operation and maintenance to local entities.

The pros and cons of bridge vacation were also discussed in these meetings. Vacating a lightly used bridge that would cost roughly $1 million to replace could be a partial solution for counties already short on road funding. The Commissioners, Ecology, and RECLAMATION agreed to further research the issue and stay engaged to find the funding necessary to complete this element of the ELC improvements.

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