East High Canal:
by Matthew Weaver
While work continues on expanding the East Low Canal, it's only a portion of the federal Columbia Basin Project.
The project currently delivers water to 671,000 acres of farmland, roughly 65% of the 1.03 million acres originally planned.
In the mid-1970s, the Washington Department of Ecology allowed farmers in the Odessa Subarea to drill irrigation wells. The wells would provide water until another portion of the project, the East High Canal, was built.
But the canal was never built, and groundwater pumping continued. Today, those wells are running out of water.
"The right way to build this project is to build the East High Canal system," said Nate Andreini, engineer for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District.
The problem was the cost. Building the East High Canal was a consideration in the Odessa Subarea study, but it came with a pricetag of $1 billion to $2 billion.
The compromise was to maximize use of the existing facilities, including expansion of the East Low Canal.
"You can imagine if you had to build something like the East Low Canal from scratch," Andreini said. “The time and expense -- it's a different environment to build things now than it was back in the 1940s and 1950s."
Advocates are pushing for the East High Canal at the federal level, but the focus for now is on the Odessa groundwater replacement. That means expanding the East Low Canal to accommodate more irrigation water that will go to Odessa subarea farmers.
"Everyone who draws off that aquifer, their wells are going down," including cities, Andreini said.
Development of the East High Canal ultimately will be shaped by larger political, economic and food security factors nationwide, with a growing population, Andreini said.
"I think those are the kind of big-picture things it will take to motivate people to set aside large amounts of public funds to build something that expensive," he said.
Washington Farmers in Waiting Game for Federal Water by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 8/1/19
Odessa Subarea Seeks More Funding for Water Expansion by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 11/4/16
Irrigation District, Development League Continue Work, Seek Funding by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 10/30/16
League Seeks Funding to Reduce Odessa Irrigation Water Costs by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 10/24/16
Another Step Taken Toward Bringing Water to Odessa Subarea by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press 9/14/15
Columbia-Snake Irrigators Push Plea for Water to the Top by Don Jenkins, Capital Press, 3/3/15
Funding to Finish East Low Canal a 'Rough Pull' by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 11/14/14
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