River Water Usage Toutedby Chris Mulick, Herald Olympia bureau
Tri-City Herald, November 19, 2003
OLYMPIA -- New withdrawals of Columbia River water could add as many as 30,000 jobs and as much as $1.3 billion to the Columbia Basin's agricultural economy, according to a new state economic analysis.
But stakeholders are criticizing the study performed for the state Department of Ecology. Irrigators say it's incomplete. Environmentalists object to how it was framed in the first place. Both hope to have questions answered when they meet with the study's authors Friday in Olympia.
The draft study, compiled by faculty members from the University of Washington and Seattle University, is the first of two that will steer the rule-making initiative dubbed the Columbia River Initiative. That effort will develop a strategy to guide new withdrawals from the river after a six-year moratorium was lifted in 1997.
A second study, performed by the National Academy of Sciences to analyze effects of new withdrawals on fish mortality, is widely considered the hallmark of the initiative. It is due in March.
The draft economic analysis released this week attempts to quantify a series of effects of withdrawing an additional 1 million acre-feet of water from the Columbia for additional irrigation, municipal and industrial use over 20 years. That's on top of 4.5 million acre-feet now being diverted from the river for use in Washington.
The analysis made no attempt to assign a monetary value to the impacts on fish and commercial and recreational fishing, preferring to wait for the National Academy of Sciences to finish its study first.
Until then, "we won't have all the answers," said Joye Redfield-Wilder, a spokeswoman for the Department of Ecology.
Darryll Olsen, a board representative for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, said there's plenty of data available to make such an assessment and leaving it out undermines the entire initiative.
"It totally skews the perspective of the report," Olsen said. "It refuses to acknowledge how low the value actually is."
The irrigators have set that value at 12 cents per acre-foot, an amount that Olsen said is "probably generous."
The irrigators also believe the report underestimates the positive economic impact on the agricultural economy, but does support their argument that water users should not have to pay more than $10 per acre-foot to mitigate effects.
Environmentalists are opposed to the general scope of the study, which charged researchers with defining how much money water is worth while assigning conditions for doling it out.
"It's asking the analyzers to assume we're going to give away all this water," said Shirley Nixon, an attorney for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "Can we afford to make it more complicated? They didn't ask that question."
The study team will accept comments this week and consider them before producing a final report by Dec. 15. The National Academy of Sciences analysis is due March 15. No draft will be released before then.
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