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