Irrigation project to expand, add 31 miles of canal

Columbia Basin Project expansion already has added 13 miles to East Low Canal

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CBH Columbia Basin Herald Local News

MOSES LAKE - New development in the Columbia Basin Project will allow farmers in the Odessa Subarea aquifer to start replacing ground water irrigation systems with surface water systems. The East Columbia Irrigation District board voted Monday to allocate project water for 17,639 acres that currently use ground water.

The land was considered to be in the Columbia Basin Project at its inception immediately before and after World War II. But the delivery system needed to get water there was never developed, said Craig Simpson, irrigation district manager.

Board members authorized allocation to 10,000 acres of eligible farmland south of I-90, according to a district press release. The expanded system will use new and upgraded siphons and canals, along with expansions to the canal system. The improvements cost about $35 million and were paid for with state and federal funds, the press release said.

Water for 7,639 acres was set aside for landowners who might not be able to tap into the irrigation district system immediately. For now, water will be delivered to the East Low Canal and farmers will build their own pump systems, the press release said. "The district will use their list of eligible landowners who have previously requested contracts to offer this water supply," it said.

The goal is to reduce the use of the Odessa aquifer, Simpson said, and ensure farms and the economy in the area remain viable. The goal is to switch irrigation for about 87,639 acres from ground water to surface water, he said.

Irrigation district employees will be working with landowners of the first 17,639 acres to "finalize design, water service contracts and construction financing," the press release said.

"We've been working on this project for about 10 years," Simpson said. Some of the water comes from new allocations from Lake Roosevelt, some of it from water saved by more efficient methods of pumping and delivery, he said. Irrigation district officials are working in cooperation with the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Landowners will retain the ground water rights, Simpson said, but they won't be active. The new surface water rights will be interruptible, but Simpson said "we don't expect interruption."

The district hasn't had to interrupt irrigation for a few years now, Simpson said, and the problem was not water, but delivering the water. Irrigation district officials are making efforts to fix that, he said.

Continuing the project will include expanding and upgrading the East Low Canal, Simpson said. The district received a $26 million grant from the state to extend the canal, and the last 31 miles will be built this winter, Simpson said.

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