More than 75 years ago, state and federal agencies began an effort to divert 3% of Columbia River water to over 1 million acres to irrigate farms and provide water to several municipalities within the project area.
This effort took place over many decades but was never completed, and today farmers in the Columbia Basin are still waiting for the promised Congressionally authorized irrigation water. As farmers waited, they were given permission to drill wells to access the water in the Odessa Subarea Aquifer. A non-replenishing aquifer, the Odessa is now dangerously close to running dry. Wells are failing, leaving irrigators and local communities without a reliable source of water, impacting local and state economies.
The East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) provides 170,993 acres of farmland with surface water from the Columbia River, but the District is authorized to cover up to 472,000 acres as part of Reclamation’s Columbia Basin Project. Irrigators within the District that are not served by surface water have been relying on these wells to pull water from the Odessa Subarea Aquifer.
The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP) is a regional effort that is building the necessary infrastructure for farmers to exchange valid state-issued Odessa groundwater rights for promised Columbia Basin Project water. This effort will allow these fertile lands to continue to produce food that feeds families around the corner, and around the world.
The OGWRP consists of 3 main stages:
- Upgrades to create additional canal flow capacity that maximizes existing infrastructure.
- Construction of lateral delivery systems to convey water from the East Low Canal to lands that are eligible under the OGWRP.
- On-farm improvements to extend irrigation delivery to individual farms with cost efficiencies and conservation benefits.
OGWRP Watershed Plan Update
The ECBID was awarded $1 million through NRCS to develop a Watershed Plan that will design and implement large projects identified in the OGWRP. The District is pursuing a Watershed Plan to access PL-566 grants, to supplement and extend State funding contributions since the cost of the project will approach several hundred million dollars. While the project is still in the early phases, the District is implementing the Odessa Subarea Special Study’s Preferred Alternative to deliver groundwater replacement supplies to 70,000 acres, an additional 10,000 acres in the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Release Program (LRIRP) and 7,700 acres of conserved water. This will be done by improving irrigation conveyance infrastructure and building eight pressurized pipe distribution systems that will include 73 miles of piped canals.
The PL-566 program has three distinct stages. The first being the Preliminary Investigation Findings Report (PIFR) that NRCS conducted to ensure the proposal met the requirements of the PL-566 program. This allowed for the allocation of the grant funds for the Watershed Plan development. The second phase is creating a Watershed Plan that lists the covered projects and allows for the design and engineering of the project. The final phase is implementation of the covered projects as defined by the Watershed Plan.
A key advantage of the PL-566 program is that NRCS covers 100% of the costs associated with the PIFR, Watershed Plan creation, and project engineering. NRCS will then contribute up to 75% of the construction costs for projects covered by the Watershed Plan. The remaining 25% can come from non-federal matches such as state or local funds.
In April 2023, the Washington State Legislature passed a Capital Budget that included $32.8M in appropriations to assist in the planning, designing, engineering, development coordination, and construction of the OGWRP. This appropriation will be used to advance design and construction of up to five eligible delivery systems in the ECBID service District and will reduce the current normalized cost to landowners.
Since 2004, the State of Washington has invested more than $158 million, and the Bureau of Reclamation more than $45 million, in the development and early implementation of the OGWRP. The ECBID has also sold $16.8 million of landowner- funded municipal bonds to fund the construction of OGWRP delivery facilities.
There are many partners involved in this effort, and the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District is proud to serve as the lead agency.
- East Columbia Basin Irrigation District
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Bureau of Reclamation
- USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
- Columbia Basin Conservation District
- Columbia Basin Development League
- State and Federal Legislators
- Local Utility Providers
- More info can be found here: https://www.ogwrp-programs.org/