Economists Add Up Costs, Benefits
by Bill Rudolph
According to a draft report released this month, using another million acre-feet of Columbia River water for irrigation would boost the Northwest agricultural sector's economy by $2.8 billion and add nearly 30,000 jobs, and at the same time increase agricultural use of the river by about 20 percent. The report is part of an initiative sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology to address natural resource issues linked to the river.
Washington's gross state product totaled about $221 billion in 2001, according to the report, with a workforce of more than 3 million last year.
A panel of economists from the University of Washington looked at several scenarios. The economists said that the total value-added impact (sales minus purchases of inputs) of withdrawing another 1 MAF for irrigation would amount to about $1.35 billion, which doesn't include possible price dampening effects from increased agricultural production.
They also estimated that a 1-MAF withdrawal would reduce revenue from hydropower production by about $9.4 million in an average water year, but wasn't likely to have significant effects on flood control or river navigation. The additional withdrawal might have some negative effects on fisheries and passive values tied to salmon runs, however.
Some scenarios included fees for water use, which the economists said could help the state mitigate the effects of increased diversions on fish and wildlife. Questions of flow and fish survival are being examined in another forum, a National Academy of Science panel commissioned by the state. Its results, expected by next March, will be used by the Department of Ecology to develop a management plan for river uses, culminating in an environmental impact statement.
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