Farmers sign on to Odessa water project

Published online: Apr 22, 2014
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Eastern Washington farmers have committed $48 million to bring water from the Columbia River to their farms in the Odessa Subarea.

Construction of a pumping system off the East-Low Canal is slated to begin this summer, said Darryll Olsen, board representative for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association. The system will be an 8-mile pipe with branch lines that will provide roughly 26,000 acre-feet of water each year to irrigate 14,000 acres.

The association secured funding commitments from 12 irrigators or secondary parties for the system, which is the first of four planned, Olsen said. They signed a legally binding agreement to proceed with construction.

“The real anxiety over this has always been financing,” Olsen said. “Trying to pull the financing together is much more difficult to do.”

Costs range from $2,500 to $4,500 per acre, depending on the farmland’s elevation and proximity to the canal. The lowest cost zone is within 4 to 5 miles of the canal and the second is 8 to 9 miles away.

The repayment schedule is 20 to 25 years, a long time for private sector debt, Olsen said.

Major lenders were interested in putting up capital and providing flexibility in terms and interest rates, Olsen said.

“Every meeting we had, we invited the bankers and lenders,” he said. “They got to see everything, literally from scratch. That had a tremendous impact on their confidence in stepping forward to help fund this.”

The ground water rights held by the farmers will be replaced by service water rights. Farmers have been drawing water from deep wells that have depleted the aquifer. The construction will allow them to switch to Columbia River water for irrigation.

“The sooner we get the water service contract to them, the more expedient things will happen,” Olsen said.

If approved, Olsen said water would be in the system in the spring of 2016.

“It’s going to be a huge impact for us to have a reliable source of water that’s of a superior quality to the well water,” said Doug Claassen, who farms northeast of Moses Lake, Wash.

Claassen said the expense is a concern, but can be overcome with a reliable water source because the value of irrigated crops will increase. 

The other systems will not be as expensive, Olsen said.

The water system agreement involves farmers, absentee landlords, lenders and long-term lease holders, Olsen said.

The bulk of the main system is funded by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Farmers will tap into turnouts on the main system, Olsen said.

The state appropriated $26 million for rehabilitation on the East Low Canal, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League.