Washington state legislators urge governor to approve water conservation program

Feb. 9, 2010
OLYMPIA, WA, Feb. 9, 2010 -- Last week, over 40 Washington State Senate and House members sent letters to Governor Christine Gregoire, urging her to support the immediate implementation of the Water Conservation Operation & Maintenance Program...

OLYMPIA, WA, Feb. 9, 2010 -- Last week, over 40 Washington State Senate and House members sent letters to Governor Christine Gregoire, urging her to support the immediate implementation of the Water Conservation Operation & Maintenance Program (O&M Water Conservation Program), which would allow irrigators to utilize seasonal water conservation measures such as: Irrigation Scheduling, Moisture & Soil Monitoring, and Weather & Crop Monitoring.

In the letters, the lawmakers state that "Encouraging water conservation through equitable allocation of the saved water is a cornerstone of the Columbia River Basin Water Management Law (RCW 90.90) ... We are very concerned that conservation implementation under RCW 90.90 to secure new irrigation need not be delayed further."

The legislators' support for the O&M Water Conservation Program follows widespread support over the past several months by water resource managers, water conservation experts, newspapers and other legislators. For example, a recent editorial in the Tri-City Herald, titled Ecology must find way to approve irrigation trial, urged that "State officials need to begin looking for ways to make the O&M Water Conservation Program happen."

According to Conservation District water managers, the O&M Water Conservation Program would reduce real-time water withdrawals by about 17%.

In addition, the proposed O&M Water Conservation Program would do the following or have the following positive benefits if immediately implemented by Governor Gregoire and the Washington State Department of Ecology:

1. Half (8.5%) of the 17% water savings would be put toward new or additional irrigated agriculture water uses while the other half (8.5%) of the water savings would be left in the river to help instream flows.
2. It would immediately help our rural economy in Washington State.
a. No State Funding would be needed or required.
b. Water conserved through the O&M Water Conservation proposal would allow for 20,000-30,000 new acres of irrigated agriculture in 2-3 years.
c. It would create an additional annual income of $70-100 million for the state.
3. It would help to avoid new conflicts over Columbia-Snake River Water Management and would provide some relief to the current system of Water Right Changes/Transfers which is not enough to deal with the overall increased demand for water.
4. It would ensure that the water conservation provisions of the 2006 Columbia River Water Management Program work and are used equitably to support both additional agricultural irrigation and instream flows.
5. It would not negatively affect other water rights, existing junior water right holders, or existing state in-stream flow rules.
6. Water transfers would only be seasonal.
7. It would be implemented within the CSRIA Voluntary Regional Agreement (VRA) with the Department of Ecology.
8. It would be applicable to Columbia-Snake System Mainstem and the Odessa Sub-Area and would offer near term tangible relief for critical water supply needs for large portions of the Odessa Sub-Area.

The legislators' letters to the Governor go on to state: "From a technical-legal management perspective, the Conservation O&M Program impairment-relinquishment and other technical issues, and deals equitably with shared water savings for both out-of-stream and in-stream demands. The irrigator's ability to fund their own program and produce new household income for our constituents during this recession is exactly the type of activity we must promote ... We call for your personal support of the Conservation O&M Program and request that you will direct your agency staff to work with the Irrigators to initiate it in 2010."

For more information, please contact Darryll Olsen, Principal Consultant of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association at 509-783-1623, or Pat Boss, Government Affairs Consultant of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association at 360-878-7073, or email [email protected].

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has become a leader in promoting water conservation and water efficiency in the Pacific Northwest. CSRIA's membership includes row crop, vineyard, orchard and livestock operations and we irrigate about 250,000 acres of prime agricultural lands in Washington State and primarily consist of operations along the Columbia-Snake River system, relying almost exclusively on private investment to build and operate highly efficient, state-of-the-art river pump stations and water distribution systems. Additionally, many municipalities and port districts are members of CSRIA. In economic terms, CSRIA members annually generate about $475-600 million in state and local income by purchasing goods and services from numerous economic sectors, ranging from paper products and food packaging to financial, legal and marketing services. Web: www.csria.org