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Groundwater Used for Irrigation in East-Central Washington Could be Replaced with Columbia Basin Project Surface Water

October 28, 2010

On October 26th, Washington’s Department of Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing proposals to use surface water from the Bureau’s Columbia Basin Project to replace groundwater used for irrigation.  The proposals considered in the EIS included irrigation of approximately 57,000 to 100,00 acres currently irrigated by groundwater with water from reservoirs created by the Grand Coulee Dam. 

The area which would be served by this project falls within the Odessa Subarea, located in east-central Washington.  The Odessa Subarea was designated as a groundwater management area in 1967 due to groundwater level declines resulting from pumping.  Surface water from existing water rights in the Columbia River system would be used to replace the groundwater.  Construction could begin in 2015 and would take approximately 10 years to complete. 

The proposed project could bring substantial economic benefit to the region.  The agencies believe this project would avert $1.6 billion in farm income loss.  There has been some opposition voiced that the diversions would harm salmon migration and water quality.  Others have concerns about the availability of federal funds for this project.  Instructions for submitting comments on the draft EIS can be found on Ecology’s website.

Further reports on this issue can be found in the Oregonian and Seattle Times.

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