Work begins to remedy declining Odessa water

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OTHELLO - Plans are underway to bring surface water from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project to landowners in parts of the Odessa Subarea in Grant, Adams, Walla Walla, Franklin and Douglas counties.

Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Lorri Lee signed a Record of Decision for the Odessa Subarea Special Study Environmental Impact Statement in April. The decision outlines a solution to remedy the decline in groundwater resources in the Odessa Subarea.

According to the Record of Decision, the solution will bring surface water to about 70,000 acres of land both north and south of Interstate 90 by enlarging the East Low Canal. Water would come from the Columbia River by way of Banks Lake.

East Columbia Basin Irrigation District secretary-manager Craig Simpson said this week district officials are now starting the process of implementing that solution.

"Until the Bureau or Reclamation had a decision we couldn't really take action," he said. "We want to make sure that landowners out there know the district is taking action now."

Simpson said the district is working on compliance documents and designs for the canal widening in anticipation of potential state funding that would allow construction to begin this year.

"There's some consideration right now in the state legislature to have some funding available," he said. "If it makes it out, there may be some money for widening the canal this winter and we're trying to get prepared for that."

Simpson said about 43 miles of the canal will need to be widened.

"It varies as it goes down but it will need to be about 15 feet wider than it is now," he said. "It's a big job."

Simpson said he hopes funding becomes available for the project this year, since the district will only have about five months during the off season to complete it.

"Depending on how funding works it we may not be able to get it done in one five-month period," he said. "We'll see what the funding looks like and the scope of the project when we get final designs on it."

Simpson said additional improvements will also have to be made in order for the district to deliver the surface water to landowners.

According to Reclamation, the district will have to create a pressurized pipeline distribution system to get the water to farmlands. The system would require numerous meter and equipment stations along the pipeline routes and about 150 miles of electric transmission lines.

Simpson said the district is also setting up a Development Office in Othello since design, construction and contracting needs will require additional staff. They will hire a development coordinator and two technicians, he said.

"We're interviewing next week for the first position, and then for the other two," said Simpson. "One of our existing engineers will also move to that office."

The new office is expected to be fully staffed by July, he said.

Simpson also said his office is working on contacting landowners who may be eligible for Columbia Basin Project water.

"Ecology and Reclamation put together a list of landowners that they show as being eligible to receive the water and those are the people we'll initially contact," he said.

Simpson said the district is still in the early stages of implementing Reclamation's solution.

"There's farmers that need to make some decisions for their lands and this is part of that decision process," he said. "We're not able to contact them individually right now but we want to make sure they know that things are starting to move on our end a little more."

He said the project should bring a lot of farmers relief.

"People are looking for a solution, the aquifer is basically running dry," he said. "I know of some landowners that have already had to stop using their wells because of declining groundwater table elevations."

According to Reclamation, if no action were taken, up to 35 percent of the wells in the Odessa Subarea could cease production by 2020. About 102,6000 acres in the Odessa Subarea are eligible to receive Columbia Basin Project surface water.

Simpson said landowners can call the district for more information at 509-488-9671,

To view the Record of Decision, visit www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/ucao_misc/odessa.

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