Columbia River Policy Advisory Group Meeting Recap

Note from the Office of Columbia River (OCR), Washington Department of Ecology: 

The Columbia River Policy Advisory Group helps [the Department of] Ecology identify policy issues associated with implementing a new water resource management program for the Columbia River, provides Ecology with a range of perspectives on policy choices and priorities and assists Ecology in setting criteria for funding of storage and conservation projects.

On June 1, the Columbia River Policy Advisory Group, which provides guidance and perspective to Washington's Office of Columbia River, met in Ellensburg, WA. The agenda featured three presentations touching on a variety of topics.  Below is a summary of each presentation. For more details, and complete copies of the agenda and presentations, please visit the CRPAG website

 

Update on the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP)

Melissa Downes, OCR and Craig Simpson, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District

Melissa opened the meeting by giving an overview of the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program and the history of the Odessa subarea. The replacement program has its roots in the Columbia River Initiative, an effort that began in 2001. In 2004, the Columbia River Initiative MOU was signed, and in February 2006, the Office of Columbia River was founded. Under the MOU, a number of projects and frameworks were identified, including Odessa. The Odessa Subarea basalt aquifers have seen up to 200 feet of decline in some areas due to groundwater pumping. Groundwater pumping in the Odessa area currently supplies water for 170,000 acres. Most permits for these pumps were issued in the 1950’s with the understanding that they were a temporary right that would be replaced by surface water supplied by the federally funded Columbia River Project. 680,000 acres of the 1,029,000 acres authorized by the Project are being served, but it has not been fully developed to date, necessitating the continued pumping of groundwater in Odessa. The final EIS for the Odessa subarea was completed in 2012, and it introduced a plan that would maximized the use of existing federal infrastructure and allow phased implementation of new infrastructure. In 2013, the first capital dollars came from Washington state to help start canal widening efforts in the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District. The principal partners in the effort of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Ecology, the East Columbia Basin Improvement District, and landowners. In the OGWRP area, there are 102,000 acres of eligible groundwater rights and 87,700 acres of groundwater replacement supplies available. Of this subset, 70,000 acres fall into the Odessa Subarea Special Project, 10,000 acres fall under the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Release Program, and 7,700 acres are covered through coordinated conservation.

Craig Simpson, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, reported on the infrastructure developments, including new siphon installation and canal widening, for the ECBID. 

The East Low Canal Widening is a large undertaking with the goal of widening 44 miles of the canal. This requires the removal of 2,750,000 cubic yards of rock. The work is being done be the District, who purchased equipment and hired 30 new people specifically for the project. The District projections estimated a lower cost by doing the work in house rather than through the contractors and the Bureau of Reclamation. The Leisle Road Bridge was replaced to account for a wider canal running below it. This construction was also completed by a District crew. Further construction related to the East Low Canal improvements include work on the Kansas Prairie siphons 1 and 2, the additional of 5 radial gates, and addressing eight other county road bridges that the widened canal will pass under. Funding sources for East Low construction efforts: ARRA ($36M federal loan), state: ($29M grants for ELC widening and siphons), ECBID: ($22.5M municipal bond sale).

The District is making a concerted effort to work with landowners in the wake of litigation by landowners against ECBID. The goal of these efforts is to create systems that are collaboratively designed. The general timeline for the District is to complete the East Low Canal infrastructure, delivery system design, financing for construction, enter into contracts, build systems, deliver water, and ultimately provide aquifer relief and stabilization by delivering water the additional 87,000 acres and getting those wells offline. OCR and WDOE are currently evaluating the potential of injection in the Odessa area (and others statewide) but no solid plans exist at this point.

 

Methow Valley Irrigation District In-Stream Flow Improvement Project

Sandra Strieby, Methow Valley Irrigation District, Lisa Pelly, Trout Unlimited, Soo Ing-Moody, Mayor of Twisp, Melissa Downes, Office of Columbia River

Before recent upgrades, some parts of the Methow Valley Irrigation District canal were only 10% efficient. A yearly dredging effort was required in the Twisp River to divert water into the canal, which raised concerns in the District about the impact to sensitive/endangered species in the area. In 2002 and 2003, WDOE issued two waste orders that imposed limitations of MVID’s diversions. Litigation continued until 2011, when a settlement agreement was reached. Following that, MVID worked with the Department of Ecology and Trout Unlimited to design and build a project that would bring them into compliance with a settlement agreement. The District presented five different compliance plans for members to vote on. The winning option included upgrading pump and pipe systems, as well as placing some landowners on wells (wells are in hydraulic continuity with the river, they don’t pull from deep aquifers). When completed, the project upgraded 7.2 miles of open earthen canal to enclosed pipe at a cost of $12 million dollars. A large portion of funding came from federal and state grants. The water savings allowed the nearby town of Twisp, which had dealt with water supply issues for years, to enter into an agreement with MVID to receive more water for municipal use.

 

OCR: 17-19 Legislative and Budget

Tom Tebb and Melissa Downe, OCR

Recent Washington State Supreme Court cases involving disputes in other parts of the state have created uncertainty about the rules for water right permits issued from the Columbia River and connected groundwater bodies. SB 5269 and HR1394 would remove barriers to the timely issuance of water rights from the Columbia River by clearing up uncertainties brought about by recent court decisions. The added certainty will allow the state to more efficiently issue permits, and the public will benefit by having a clearer set of permit requirements.

Melissa gave a breakdown of what is currently permittable, what may be permittable, and what is unlikely to be permitted on the Columbia River. Below is an excerpt from her presentation

Currently permittable on the Columbia River mainstem:

o   Non-consumptive uses (hydropower, fish hatcheries)

o   Qi (instantaneous) only. For example, if a city wanted to increase the rate of the water pulled out, but not quantity.

o   In kind, in time, in place mitigation (water for water)

o   September to March season of use

Possibly permittable:

o   Short term, limited duration

o   Out of kind mitigation

o   In kind and in place mitigation that is temporally offset

o   Tributary water in lesser quantities than Columbia River mainstem quantities

o   Interruptible water right

Non starters:

o   Permanent consumptive appropriations during April through August

o   Interruptible water right

2017 Annual Meeting and Conference Recap

On May 25, the Oregon Water Coalition hosted its annual membership meeting at the Hermiston Conference Center. In total, 34 OWC members, local representatives, and speakers were present at the meeting. OWC president Bill Porfily opened the meeting at 8:15am, welcoming attendees and giving brief updates on the Coalition, including its recent change in designation from a 501(c)(6) to a 501(c)(3) and its decision to hire a coordinator at the beginning of this year. After these brief updates, Bill introduced the first speaker, David Filippi.

David Filippi is an attorney at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland. He opened the conference by providing an update on water-related legislation in Oregon, as well as other developments nationwide that could have an impact at the local level. He provided an overview of the pending litigation against Westland Irrigation District, and briefly mentioned the development of new rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin (further explained by OWRD's Justin Iverson later in the program). David highlighted some general themes in Oregon State water legislation this year--namely measurement and monitoring, introducing fees for water rights holders, and a focus on groundwater studies. These themes correspond to bills HB 2705, 2706, 2707, respectively. He also touched on SB 865, which would require cities and counties to inform irrigation districts about planned subdivisions, passed the House and Senate. Local Republican Senator Bill Hansell is the chief sponsor of this bill. Another topic of interest David noted was the brewing disagreement between Idaho and Oregon over reintroduction of threatened fish above the Hells Canyon Dam. Among a few points about actions at the federal level, he drew attention to the Bureau of Reclamation's Public-Private Partnerships program (P3). The program announced the release of a “Request for Information” seeking feedback on potential water resource projects for public-private partnerships. 


JR Cook, director of NOWA and member of OWC's board of directors, gave an update on the regional water supply projects and his organization's work in the Umatilla Basin. In the near future, NOWA's focus will turn more pointedly towards the East and West pipeline projects, with a continued focus on establishing a mitigation program. NOWA is also working to develop a basalt banking pilot test project to assess the feasibility of recharge efforts in the Umatilla Basin. Beyond NOWA's efforts directly, JR discussed Washington State's targeted infrastructure investment program for the Columbia River and its major tributaries. Establishing a similar program for large mainstem basins in Oregon could be very beneficial to make funds available for water projects. 
 
The final speaker was Justin Iverson, ground water section manager for OWRD. He provided a background on the rulemaking process and recently revised rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin. The May 11 revisions designated the subbasin as a "serious groundwater management problem area" and require the metering and reporting of water use from permitted basalt aquifers. Water levels have significantly declined across the region, with a 100 foot decline in basalt aquifers and a 15 foot decline of alluvial aquifers since 1950. As part of the rulemaking process, OWRD held seven public meetings and worked with local stakeholders. Walla Walla Subbasin groundwater management priorities are divided into two phases. In Phase One, the basin will be closed to further groundwater allocation, measurements of basalt aquifer water use must be reported by users, and there will be an increased push for data collection. In Phase Two, the goal is to see a stabilization of groundwater levels and encourage the creation of a water supply plan that is "voluntary, community-based, long term, holistic". 

The OWC would like to thank all those who attended the event, with special thanks to the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce for providing space and Desert Springs Bottled Water for providing food for attendees. 

To read the East Oregonian's recap of the event, please click here

 

Updated: Idaho's Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer: Overview and Developments

The past winter was a record year for recharge in Idaho's Eastern Snake Plain. With support from the state legislature, recharge efforts began there in 2015. This winter, over 300,000 acre-feet of water has been recharged, exceeding the goal of 250,000 acre-foot per year. On May 18, the Idaho Water Resources Board suspended ESPA recharge efforts for the season in light of the Bureau of Reclamation's announcement that flows below the Minidoka Dam will be decreased in order to meet irrigation needs. The full press release can be found here. See below for additional news links and an overview of the region.

A collection of ESPA news coverage from the earlier this year: 

Idaho looks ahead to future recharge projects : Improved efficiency of irrigation systems means a large role for managed recharge. The IWRB will focus on building additional recharge sites distributed through ESPA. 

State law helps boost recharge totals: This season, a new state law in Idaho allowed canal managers to recharge surplus water without a recharge right, boosting recharge totals. 

Record Year in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer: From late October until the end of April, nearly 300,000 acre-feet of water was returned to the aquifer through five projects in eastern Idaho and five projects in south-central Idaho.

 

Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Overview

The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) is located in southeastern Idaho. It is Idaho’s largest aquifer system, and one of the largest in the United States. The aquifer is composed primarily of basalts and covers approximately 11,000 square miles. The storage capacity of the upper 500 feet is estimated to be 200-300 million acre feet. Primary discharges are the Thousand Springs area and American Falls/Ft. Hall area. Snow and rainfall from Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada feed into the Snake River and supply the aquifer. The Snake River Plain, which draws from the aquifer, contains 2 million irrigated acres and supports farming operations including potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, barley, beans, peas, alfalfa, dairies, and aquaculture. Output from this region accounts for about 25% of Idaho’s economy. 

 

Timeline of Developments

2016: The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer is designated as a Ground Water Managment Area by the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

2016: In 2016, the Legislature approved $28.9 million over three years in recharge funding. The money comes from a mix of general and dedicated funds and federal grants. 

2014: HB 547 allocates $5 million to the Water Resources Board for aquifer recharge with priority given to ESPA. HB 479 grants an additional $4 million one-time allocation to fund recharge infrastructure. Additional one-time funds were allocated in 2015. 

2009: Swan Falls Re-affirmation Agreement between the State of Idaho and the Idaho Power Company. Among a number of stipulations, the agreement requires the state of Idaho to work with Idaho Power in the case of lower hydropower generation with the introduction of diversions.

2009: The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Comprehensive Aquifer Recharge Management Plan (CAMP) is signed into law by Governor Butch Otter as part of the State Water Plan. ESPA Comprehensive Aquifer Recharge Management Plan average annual managed recharge targets: Years one through ten: 100,000 acre feet/yr. After ten years, the goal is 250,000 acre feet/yr

2008-2009: IWRB (Idaho Water Resources Board) completes a pilot project to test methods of recharging water into aquifer. The results show that the best case infiltration is about ½ ft/day. Injection wells are a feasible option at most sites, but the cost of permitting and monitoring will increase higher populations, making it less attractive.

2007: Idaho Ground Water Association (IGWA) acquires 29,500 AF of storage water in rental pool for their required mitigation; ran it through canal in fall for seepage.

2006: IWRB recharge rights from the Snake and Wood Rivers come into priority. IRWB requests multiple canals divert their water for aquifer recharge seepage. The result is 60,500 acre feet of total recharge.

2005: The Idaho legislature passes HCR 28, HB 373, and HB 392. This suite of bills provides support to the IWRB to support and fund managed recharge programs.

 1998: IWRB applies for 20 water rights to recharge water from the Snake River, but protests by a number of different groups halt the applications.

 1998: IWRB completes the ESPA Managed Recharge Feasibility Study.

 1995: The Idaho Legislature appropriates $945,000 for recharge efforts to IWRB, and the program administration is then passed along to Water District 1. With this project, natural flow diversion for recharge is made using the irrigation water rights for participating canals.

 1992: South West Irrigation District partners with the federal government to build 13 injection wells in the Eastern Snake Plain.

 1991: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designates ESPA as a sole source aquifer.

 1990’s: Drought leads to an increasing decline in groundwater levels with more pumping and fewer surface water diversions to facilitate recharge.

 1981: The Idaho Water Resources Board (IWRB) issues the Upper Snake Recharge Report recapping the pilot recharge project and analyzing the feasibility of expanding recharges efforts. Legislative action creates the Snake River Aquifer Recharge District, allowing for efforts to continue. About 84,700 acre feet of recharge from 1980-1999 is observed.

 1970: After a 1962 recommendation by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to introduce a recharge project in the Eastern Snake Plain, a pilot recharge project begins in the Egin Lake area.

1960’s: The expansion of irrigation on Eastern Snake Plain leads to an increased reliance on groundwater. Additionally, the growing adoption of more efficient irrigation methods leads to less recharge from irrigation and a decline in groundwater levels.

 

New grant opportunity: NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant

The USDA-NRCS's Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program supports farmers and ranchers who are undertaking innovative projects targeting energy, air quality, water, plant, soil, and wildlife concerns. In Oregon, NRCS will award up to $250,000 to assist in the development of creative, on-the-ground projects that aim to improve agricultural and environmental outcomes. Applications are due April 28th and applicants may request up to $75,000. 

To learn more about this grant program, please visit the NRCS website. To learn more about additional grant funding, see our Grant Opportunities page. 

Check out our resources page

With the launch of a new website, the Water Coalition is pleased to present a new resource section of our website. In this section, you can see a completed list of water-related legislation in the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and see a schedule of regional meetings for state and local representatives. In the coming month, the Coalition will continue to build this resource page. To access these pages, please click here. If you have ideas for what you'd like to see, please let us know here

Welcome to the new website

Welcome to the new website of the Oregon Water Coalition! The Coalition has recently undergone some changes in its structure and focus. This “News” section of the website is where you’ll be able to find recent posts about water and agriculture issues in the Umatilla Basin. If you’d like to receive these updates via email, please sign up for the Coalition’s monthly newsletter here. As a nonprofit, the Coalition is always eager to welcome new members who share a vision for environmentally and economically sustainable region. If you are interested in joining, please see our “Membership” page. If you have any questions, please contact the Coalition’s coordinator, Marika Sitz (marika@oregonwatercoalition.org).