With the Weber Siphon construction project as a backdrop, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire on August 2 celebrated regional partnerships and major milestones that are delivering water to the parched Odessa Subarea and communities up and down the river, while supporting stream flows for fish in the Columbia River.
Joining her were U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Pacific Northwest Regional Director Karl Wirkus, state Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant, state Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse, regional irrigators, and state and local elected officials.
Gregoire said, “Today, we are celebrating what teamwork and community partnerships can accomplish. These partnerships are allowing us to issue new water rights to our towns, provide water to our farmers, and support vital flows for fish. The benefits of a collaborative approach are clear – these new water resources will support an estimated 35,000 new jobs and add $3 billion to our state economy.”
Wirkus said, “Our success on this project is due to our shared commitment and partnership to finding positive solutions to complex water management issues here and throughout the West.”
At the event, directors Wirkus and Sturdevant signed a water service contract that opens the door for Ecology to issue new water rights to as many as 100 communities and deliver water to the river when fish need it most, as part of the state’s Lake Roosevelt storage release program.
Ecology’s Sturdevant said, “Today affirms what we envisioned five years ago, when folks throughout the Columbia Basin decided to stop fighting over water and instead create solutions for all our shared water needs. These releases from Lake Roosevelt will allow communities and industries to grow and thrive, improve river conditions for salmon, and ease hardships faced by many farmers now relying on shrinking aquifers.”
Through the new siphon, the Lake Roosevelt release program will deliver the first increment of new water to replace declining underground water to farmers in the Odessa area. Ecology and Reclamation are seeking additional water sources to provide more replacement water in the future.
Agriculture Director Newhouse said, “This is a great start today in delivering more irrigation water to the farmers of the Columbia Basin, but it is not the finish line. Many farmers remain concerned about declining groundwater. We must continue to seek long-term solutions so that existing water right holders have access to the resources they need to keep their farms viable.”
Fulfilling its obligation to aggressively pursue new water supplies for Eastern Washington, the Ecology’s Office of Columbia River (OCR) is tackling the top priorities of 2006 Columbia River Water Management legislation: to provide replacement water to farmers in the Odessa Subarea where aquifers are declining by as much as 10 feet a year; to develop water for new municipal, domestic and industrial needs; to support stream flows for fish; and to prevent the interruption of water delivery to irrigators during drought.
Legislation passed in the 2011 session opened the door for the state to begin issuing new water rights based on water stored in Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam. The new bill gives explicit authority to recover costs and enter into a contract with Reclamation to deliver the water to cities and industries up and down the river. The first permits are expected to be issued by the end of this year.
State Sen. Bob Morton of Kettle Falls and ranking Republican on the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, said: “These kinds of partnerships are essential to the future of water service in Eastern Washington. The Weber Siphon project and other joint state and federal water projects will provide hundreds of jobs to our communities and help restore the agricultural vitality to many towns in our district.”
The state provided $800,000 to fund the design of the second siphon, which is now under construction. Washington’s congressional delegation and Reclamation secured $36 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to build it. Construction is scheduled to be completed in early 2012, and the first water will pass through the siphon next spring in time for next year’s growing season.
All told, the new water supplies are projected to support 35,000 new jobs and add $3 billion to the economy as water is allocated. And water to the Odessa protects 780 current jobs and $53 million in yearly farm income.*
Lake Roosevelt Storage Release Program
In partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, the state’s Lake Roosevelt Incremental Storage Release Project will make up to 132,500 acre-feet of water available to meet the current and growing needs of the Columbia River Basin.
Annually, a total of 82,500 acre feet will be released from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee dam:
27,500 acre-feet to benefit streams and salmon.
30,000 acre-feet for Odessa area farmers (replacement water for 10,000 acres of land irrigated from wells).
25,000 acre-feet to be made available as water rights to municipalities and industries.
Additionally, 50,000 acre-feet could be released during drought years to provide needed streamflow support for fish and to cover some 360 irrigation water rights up and down the Columbia River that would be otherwise interrupted during low-flow years.
The Weber Siphon Project
Odessa farmers face growing water quality and availability issues associated with pumping from a depleting aquifer. The irrigators are within Columbia Basin Project boundaries where surface water deliveries were historically promised.
Construction of the Weber Siphon will allow the Reclamation to bring 30,000 acre-feet of Lake Roosevelt Project water to up to 10,000 acres of land now relying on unsustainable groundwater supplies for irrigation.
Current work is remedying a bottleneck where the East Low Canal crosses I-90 by way of the Weber Siphon Complex. By adding the second barrel of the siphon, the complex’s capacity is increased to accommodate this delivery of water.