Irrigation Project Continues
by LuAnn Morgan
The Othello Outlook, February 7, 2009
The Columbia Basin expansion project continues to move forward despite appeals filed by the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia River Keepers to block two Department of Ecology work permits issued to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Rachael Paschal Osborn, director of CELP and a public interest water lawyer who has fought water bills for over 15 years, stated in a recent press release that Reclamation must first analyze climate change impacts and the enormity of the taxpayer and ratepayer subsidy before taking more water from the Columbia River.
"Water is no longer available to give away in this state," Osborn said. "A fundamental duty of government is to protect the public's water." The appeals are now in front of a pollution control hearings board.
Members of the Columbia Basin Development League, who have been working with federal and state entities to finish the irrigation project started 50 years ago, are assisting in the efforts to gain a foothold on the problem of dwindling water in the Odessa subarea.
At the group's Jan. 21 meeting, lobbyist and project director Mike Schwisow said full evidentiary hearings are expected to take place in June and July or August.
In the meantime, the league is soliciting funds from the economic stimulus packages coming down the pike.
"We, likewise, have our bucket out," he said.
Schwisow said the project will be funded through the capital budget on both the state and federal levels. Some money has already been secured, and he said the state could potentially receive a block grant from the federal government to spread out to the various entities applying for funds.
"For the 2010 budget, the process has been speeded up," Schwisow said. "Senators Murray and Cantwell have already sent in the paperwork."
In the meantime, work hasn't seen much of a slowdown.
Last year, information from Reclamation was released for the Odessa study and the Potholes feed route has been moving along.
"The design phases are done and the Road 16 low water crossing has been designed and is ready to build," Schwisow said. "We've also gained needed right-of-ways."
A request has also been made on the Weber Coulee siphon. Schwisow said the siphon is a necessary piece to improve existing project operations.
The siphon was installed 50 years ago in anticipation of the second half of the irrigation project's completion. It will now be expanded to provide additional water to the southern end of the canal system.
One end has been uncovered.
"We can see the top of the tube in the bottom of the ditch, so we know it's do-able," he said. "We could have the project ready to bid by the end of summer."
Also complete is the environmental review, which was necessary for the economic stimulus money.
While waiting for word on available funds, the league watches carefully for any developments in the appeals cases. The lawsuit names Reclamation, Ecology and the irrigation district as defendants.
"The advantage is all parties participated in documents that back up the permits," Schwisow said.
But, he's not sure how long the cases could be tied up in court.
"It depends on how much money they have for appeals," he said. "They threw everything against the wall and most will be thrown out and the court will get down to the remaining issues."
Schwisow said the appeals didn't come as a surprise and expects the cases to be settled quickly.
"Ecology anticipated the appeal and was ready for it," he said.
Related Pages: New Water Releases to Hydrate Odessa Aquifer Farmland by Staff, Ritzville Journal, 10/9/8
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