Columbia-Snake Irrigators Push
by Don Jenkins
Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Associaton has appealed to the head of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to approve its irrigation proposal.
Rebuffed by regional officials, a private irrigation association that wants to tap the Columbia River to irrigate 14,500 acres in Central Washington has asked the head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to intervene.
The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has been unable to win official support for its proposal to connect to the East Low Canal to serve land north of Interstate 90 and east of Moses Lake.
The association's board representative, Darryll Olsen, said the group will go to court if the bureau's commissioner, Estevan Lopez, doesn't get involved.
"They'll end up in litigation," Olsen said. "It's not going to be very long. It's going to be sooner (rather)s than later."
The association says that while the public sector continues to make plans, it has a shovel-ready project to take pressure off the depleting Odessa Subarea aquifer.
Olsen said he's offering private-sector efficiency and private-sector financing -- $42 million from 14 landowners.
The reclamation bureau, Washington Department of Ecology and East Columbia Basin Irrigation District reject the proposal.
The bureau, DOE and irrigation district are collaborating to replace Odessa groundwater with river water on some 87,000 acres in Adams, Grant, Franklin and Lincoln counties. The bureau finalized the plan in 2013.
The bureau's Columbia-Cascades area manager, Dawn Wiedmeier, said Monday that Olsen's proposal doesn't fit with that plan, which took eight years to develop.
Besides smaller in scope, Olsen's proposal includes land not eligible to receive water under the government plan, she said. "We're having a fundamentally different project."
In a paid advertisement in the Feb. 27 Capital Press, the irrigators association printed a memo it sent a week earlier to Lopez.
The memo described a long-awaited meeting with the regional director, Lori Lee, in January that left the association hopeful its proposal would be seriously considered. Since then, however, the association complained it has met with "renewed obfuscation."
"This deteriorating circumstance begs for USBR intervention from the highest level," the memo concludes.
In an interview, Olsen said the association hasn't heard yet from Lopez. If Lopez learns details about the association's proposal, particularly the part about private money on the table, he should celebrate, Olsen said.
"We've got private capital to move forward now," Olsen said. "He ought to be standing up on his desk cheering."
Wiedmeier said the regional director has kept Lopez informed. She said she listened in to the January meeting and didn't hear any suggestion the bureau's position had softened.
East Columbia Basin Irrigation District Director Craig Simpson called Olsen's proposal "a solution not needed."
"It doesn't meet the needs of the whole program," he said. "We're more holistic in our approach. We're trying to do the entire 87,000 acres."
Simpson said the pace of delivering water will depend largely on obtaining funding commitments from private landowners. He said Olsen's plan depends on serving land closer to the canal.
"We just can't take the easy ones. We'd all look great," Simpson said.
Olsen said the association already has started gathering its legal arguments, including allegations the bureau has not followed the Administrative Procedures Act in handling the request for a water service contract. "They just can't keep it in limbo," he said
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