Reprinted with permission from Irrigation Leader Magazine: www.irrigationleadermagazine.com The mighty Columbia Basin Project (CBP) is a Reclamation project that dates back to the 1940s and provides Columbia River water to 671,000 acres in east-central Washington State. Some may be unaware, however that while the entire CBP was authorized by Congress, only three quarters of it have been completed. The delay in the completion of the CBP is now creating serious problems for Central Washington irrigators and communities. Most significantly, farmers in the Odessa, Washington, region received permits from the Washington Department of Ecology to drill deep wells on the understanding that a canal would eventually be built to bring CBP water to the land. However, that did not happen for over 40 years, and as a result, the Odessa-area aquifer is being depleted at a rapid rate. The “ancient water” that is now being pumped from it is old, high in temperature, and filled with salt and minerals that make it ill-suited for irrigation. The decline of the aquifer not only threatens irrigators in the region; there are also 12 communities that risk losing their domestic water supplies. To guarantee the continuance of high-value agriculture in the region to restore the aquifer, and to secure the water supplies of local municipalities, that use of groundwater must be replaced with the use of surface water from the Columbia River. This expansive undertaking, known as the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP), involves large pumps to pump the water out of the river, large pipes to convey it to the Odessa area, and laterals to bring it to the farms. Only now, with a new pipeline built through the OGWRP, are the first deliveries of Columbia River water being made to the region. In this interview, we speak with four Washington State legislators who have played key roles in helping to fund and advance the OGWRP about the importance of the project and the way forward.

While replacing Odessa Ground Water Replacement Project bridges remains a need and focus, in Adams County, some other changes are currently the priority. Two new commissioners are coming in, and one of the people most responsible for recent progress on bridge replacement is leaving town. Funds are always limited in Adams County, so the hunt is always on for agencies who can help share the cost of major undertakings. Replacing all OGWRP bridges (eight in Adams County, two in Grant County) is a big undertaking, but it is the necessary final step of canal expansion in order to increase water delivery capacity to OGWRP lands.

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).
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