Washington Growers Want More Water

Published online: Aug 27, 2004 WSPC
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Could Washington state growers get additional water for thousands of acres of  farm land and for water tables that are slowly receding under the Columbia Basin Project?

Farmers in the "Odessa Sub-Area" have seen 98 percent of their wells decline over the last seven years; 51 percent of the wells have declined at a rate of five feet or more per year, and some wells have dropped nearly 300 feet in the past 40 years.

The Columbia Basin Development League hopes to take advantage of the BOR's removal of the moratorium on new water diversions of Columbia water last year. This has opened the door for reconsideration of the second half of the original Columbia Basin Project.

Officials say that the potential economic consequences and declining aquifer have created a window of opportunity to address the critical water table problem.

The project would bring water through a high and low canal system on the east side of the original CBP and save the potential loss of water rights for over 200,000 irrigated acres.

The Odessa Sub-Area aquifer decline is due in large part to the stalled development of the complete CBP package. Well permits were issued in the 1960s and 1970s as a temporary source of irrigation water under the assumption the second half of the CBP would provide surface water.

Growers call it a win-win situation for everyone involved. Development of the second half was delayed when numerous Columbia River salmon stocks were listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1994, both Reclamation and Ecology placed a moratorium on any additional water withdrawals from the river. The Bureau lifted the moratorium in November 2003. In recent months Ecology has acknowledged the potential to replace wells with surface water.