U.S. Water News Online
SPOKANE, Wash. -- The state will provide $600,000 this year
to begin studying ways to increase irrigation to 170,000 acres of
farm land in Eastern Washington that provide much of the nation's
french fry supply.
The area is at risk of losing its water supply -- and its
factories that produce frozen french fries -- as a result of the
sharp decline of the Odessa Aquifer, Gov. Christine Gregoire said.
"Agriculture is one of the main economic engines of our state and
water is the lifeblood of central Washington's agricultural
community," Gregoire said in a statement.
Members of the Columbia Basin Development League met with
Gregoire, and the governor decided to find money for the study this
Roger Thieme, chairman of the nonprofit league, said time is
running out for farmers who need irrigation water to produce the
potato, alfalfa and corn crops that fuel the area's economy.
"The loss of this source of water would be devastating and time is
running out," Thieme said. "We appreciate the governor's rapid action
to provide this funding."
A recent study by Washington State University found that loss of
the potato crop and the related processing plants would cost the
region approximately $630 million per year and 3,600 jobs.
The study, commissioned by the Washington State Potato Commission,
found that one acre of irrigated potatoes produces $17,700 of
economic activity in a year, compared to only $113 from the same acre
used for dryland wheat growing.
The roots of the problem date to the 1970s, when the state allowed
farmers to begin drawing water from the aquifer based on the belief
that they would ultimately get water from the planned expansion of
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project. The project
is a series of canals that deliver water impounded by Grand Coulee
But concerns about costs and about restoring declining salmon runs
helped derail those expansion plans, leaving only the aquifer to
supply the farms.
The best long-term solution is to expand existing canals to carry
water into the areas served by the Odessa Aquifer, which runs under
Odessa, Warden, Connell and Moses Lake, said Alice Parker of the
That could occur in steps, just as the original portion of the
Columbia Basin Project was built, she said.
"It may take 50 years to get it accomplished," Parker, of Royal
The state will work with the Bureau of Reclamation, Columbia Basin
Project irrigation districts and the league to find a solution, state
Ecology Department Director Jay Manning said.
"Gov. Gregoire recognizes the tremendous economic contributions
these farms make to the state, and is committed to doing her share to
correct this problem," he said.
The $600,000 grant is the first installment by the state in a
cost-sharing effort with the federal government. The funds will be
taken from $6 million authorized this spring by the Legislature for
feasibility studies to expand water supplies from the Columbia River.
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