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Economic and dam related articles

Organization Seeks
Answers for Odessa Aquifer

by Steve Shinn, Guest Comment
Capital Press, September 2, 2005

This summer of drought has focused the public eye on a situation the Columbia Basin Development League has been addressing for quite a long time - the depletion of the Odessa Aquifer.

Water users in our area are acutely aware of this crisis. Groundwater levels continue to decline and many deep wells already have been abandoned. Domestic wells also are in danger. The Columbia Basin Development League has seen this coming and we have been working closely with federal and state agencies on ways to help solve the problem.

Not only is this a crisis for individual landowners and water users, it's a potential economic crisis that could affect the entire state. The loss of crop production from lack of water also means a loss of crop processing capacity.

A recent study conducted by the University of Washington for the Washington State Potato Commission found that "an acre of irrigated potatoes and subsequent potato processing generates $17,700 of regional economic activity each year."

Currently the Odessa Aquifer supports more than 35,000 irrigated acres of potato production. That translates to a total economic impact of $630 million annually to the region.

So what's the answer? And how soon can we realistically expect results?

The league has launched the Columbia Basin Water Initiative, which is tackling this crisis through three major goals:

  1. Developing better public understanding of the Columbia Basin Project and its ability to address the declining water resources
  2. Developing cooperative partnerships with affected public agencies that would allow use of privately raised money to encourage and stimulate appropriate action
  3. Supporting legislative action to secure appropriate funding.
Make no mistake, this is not an easy process. But we believe that if all the concerned parties - water users, landowners, municipalities, tribal entities and government agencies - work with each other, and not at cross purposes, we can succeed with this very complex project. Briefly, here's where we are today.

Reclamation owns and manages the Columbia Basin Project and is responsible for conducting this process, which is determined by Congress and outlined in federal laws and regulations. Reclamation has taken its first steps with the initiation of a Plan of Study that will investigate continued incremental development of the Project with a focus on lands currently being irrigated by wells in the Odessa Aquifer. That Plan of Study is expected to be complete by Sept. 30.

The full process that will determine how work on the Odessa proceeds will take five to seven years to complete. No shortcuts have been identified to get around this process. Current Reclamation rules require a 50-percent match in funds from stakeholders to conduct these studies.

The league is actively soliciting funds from many sources, including the state, to meet those match requirements.

The league will hold a conference in Moses Lake, Wash. on Oct. 26 that will bring together the various groups and individuals who are committed to pushing this project forward. We will hear the status of the Reclamation study, get reports from those "in the trenches" who are spreading our message of concern to legislators and other policy makers, and we will get the assessment of our congressional delegation on our work to date.

We hear the concerns of water users who are watching wells go down and pumping expenses go up. That's why members of the league have committed their own personal resources - both time and money - to this important initiative. But we need the participation of everyone.

Those who will make the ultimate decisions are looking for a high level of commitment from stakeholders. And they have told us that without a significant demonstration of unified support, the project cannot move forward.

Now is the time to get involved. Check our website. You'll find much more detail on what we're doing and how you can help. And register to attend the Oct. 26 conference.

That's the time we'll review our progress and plan the next steps to bring water to the Odessa. We want everyone who cares about the economy of our region to be part of this campaign.

June 9, 2005

Dear Governor Gregoire:

The members of the Columbia Basin Development League strongly urge you to take any steps available to you to mitigate the damage done by the recent ruling of U.S. District Judge James Redden setting aside the biological opinion issued by NOAA Fisheries for management of the Columbia/Snake River systems. If this ruling is not successfully appealed, the economic security of a major part of Washington state is in jeopardy.

The Columbia River, through the Columbia Basin Project, does more than just provide water for irrigated agriculture and power generation. It supplies a resource that drives the economic engine of businesses and municipalities throughout eastern Washington, and it provides environmental benefits by creating important habitat for fish and wildlife.

The League believes that the Columbia River contains adequate water to meet the needs of the multiple uses that draw upon it. We support a balanced approach to water management that recognizes all these uses and the benefits they provide to the region. Judge Redden's decision makes it impossible to use the science and technology that's available to practice sound multiple-use management.

The following statistics help quantify the multi-faceted value provided by the Project:

  1. Currently 670,000 acres are under irrigation. Congress originally authorized 1,095,000 acres.
  2. Approximately 2,050 farms are supported by the Project.
  3. Over 60 different crops are grown on Project lands - many of which are shipped throughout the U.S. as well as overseas.
  4. 405,000 acres are dedicated to fish and wildlife habitat and water-based recreation.
  5. Recreational land supports 3-million public visits per year
  6. Seven hydroelectric facilities on Project canal systems, plus the Grand Coulee Dam, produce 6,700 megawatts of electricity - enough power for six cities the size of Seattle and eight times the power needed for Northwest agriculture.
The annual economic contribution to the state of Washington includes:
  1. State farm-gate value - over $630 million or 18-percent of state gross value
  2. Cumulative crop value -- $3 billion
  3. Property tax revenues -- $10 million
  4. Average value per irrigated acre -- $1,050
  5. Annual income from ag processing facilities supported by the Project -- $548 million
In its effort to support continued development of the Columbia Basin Project, the League has launched a major initiative to bring more water to the region - especially to those areas already in production in the Odessa Sub-Area. This 250,000-acre agricultural region is in serious jeopardy because of the depleting aquifer. Production from the Odessa Sub-Area constitutes a significant portion of the agricultural economy in eastern Washington. If the Odessa Sub-Area reverts to dry-land farming because of lack of water, the impact on the state will be devastating. Production will be lost. Processing, distribution and other farm service businesses will suffer. And the tax base will erode.

¬ÝTo this end, the League endorses an exchange project that will substitute surface water from the Columbia for ground water in the Odessa aquifer. The Columbia River is a renewable, sustainable resource. It contains plenty of water for everyone, but often it's not available at the right time. The agricultural community is doing its part by implementing systems and practices that preserve water. The next step is to establish adequate off-river storage that will allow water to be released when it is needed - both for species protection and for agriculture.

¬ÝMembers of the Columbia Basin Development League have demonstrated their personal commitment to moving ahead with a project. They have contributed approximately $200,000 to date as local match for funds provided by Reclamation to start the study process. We are continuing to raise money because we understand that we have embarked on a project that is a shared responsibility of federal, state and local governments, as well as private landowners and businesses. We are doing our part. But Judge Redden's decision raises very serious doubts about our ability to develop productive plans to implement water management strategies that will save the Odessa Aquifer. This is a loss we simply can't afford in Washington.

Thank you for your consideration of ways to continue down the road of sound water management for the Columbia River. Please feel free to get in touch with me, or our Executive Secretary Alice Parker, if you have questions about the League or our position on this matter.


Roger Thieme
Chair, Columbia Basin Development League

Steve Shinn is vice chairman of the Columbia Basin Development League.
Organization Seeks Answers for Odessa Aquifer
Capital Press, September 2, 2005

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