USDA: Supplant Odessa aquifer use
Plan to draw more water from Columbia
Last updated 11/7/2023 at 11:55pm
OTHELLO – The USDA is moving ahead with a plan to draw water out of the Columbia River for irrigation in an effort to curtail aquifer groundwater depletion.
In an announcement Wednesday, Nov. 1, the agency said it will accept the recommendation of the federal Bureau of Reclamation to use “new Columbia River diversions” for irrigation water for 70,000 acres of the Odessa subarea in the East Columbia River Irrigation District.
Under the plan, water siphoned from the Columbia River will replace groundwater currently being withdrawn from the Odessa aquifer to irrigate land.
The plan calls for a one-to-one replacement of 164,000 acre-feet of water to reduce “significant declines in groundwater levels.”
Under the Columbia Basin Project, the East Columbia Irrigation District is authorized to provide water to 472,000 acres; 169,000 acres are managed by 4,500 landowners.
The Columbia Basin Project is a network of managed irrigation canals that transport water from Grand Coulee Dam for irrigation of 670,000 acres of arid farmland in Grant, Adams, Franklin and other counties.
A previous environmental study estimated that enough water could be withdrawn from the Columbia River to irrigate 102,600 acres of land and reduced the use of 164,000 acre-feet of groundwater, according to the plan.
Officials said that over the years, Odessa aquifer groundwater depletion has prompted the drilling of deeper wells for irrigation, with some wells already at 2,100 feet.
Many wells have also dried up in areas where drilling deeper may not yield additional water.
Before the plan can go into effect, the public will given 30 days to comment once the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes its related Notice of Availability in the Federal Register.
Publishing is expected about Nov. 8, leaving the comment window open until about Dec. 8.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s notice of intent to approve of the environmental analysis and move ahead with the Columbia River drawdown is available online at https://www.ogwrp-programs.org/watershed-plan and https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/conservation-by-state/washington/nrcs-washington-public-notices.
The EPA’s notice of availability can be found online at https://www.federalregister.gov/agencies/environmental-protection-agency.
Comments can also be called into 541-716-6085 or mailed to Farmers Conservation Alliance, 102 State St., Hood River, OR 97031.