New Columbia River Water Rights
by Darryll Olsen
Open letter to Wash. Gov. Gary Locke and Eastern Washington legislators:
New water right development from the mainstem Columbia River is a key feature for any Eastern Washington economic development policy. Issuing the water rights will immediately generate new state income, all brought about by local and private sector funding. Eastern Washington’s economic horsepower will be unleashed.
Current and future water use should be viewed in true perspective:
All existing water withdrawals from the mainstem Columbia River — including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana — amount to about 6 percent of the average annual volume flow depletion. Future state withdrawals for new water rights (about 250,000 acre feet) would amount to less than 0.25 percent of average annual volume flow, or about an additional 1 percent during peak flow conditions in low-water years.
Under low-water-year conditions, the daily net river flow variation is 100 times greater than the amount of water that would be used for the new water rights.
The scientific and economic basis for proceeding with new Columbia River water rights is presented by:
The Columbia Basin Research Office, University of Washington: Relying on 20 years of experience in evaluating Columbia River fish survival, the UW has used actual empirical data to conclude that the small, incremental water withdrawals from the Columbia River will have no measurable impact on migrating fish — even during a low-water-year condition. Other scientists cannot even quantify the impact.
A University of Washington economics review team: The UW economists determined that over $100 million of new regional income would be derived annually from the issuance of new water rights.
As proposed by the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, existing and new water right holders will engage in the most progressive water management program in the West, far exceeding any other state standards.
Water right holders with existing interruptible water rights will implement a new Best Management Practices program for irrigation efficiency.
New water right holders will adopt the BMP program for all their water rights and will pay the state an annual fee of $10 per acre foot for new water. The state can use this money for water efficiency programs, or it can provide directly the funds to tribal governments to support their fish enhancement programs.
This is an innovative, highly beneficial approach to water resources development. Our regional economic engine is no threat to real environmental stewardship.
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