Columbia River grants to support eastern Washington water projects

The Washington Department of Ecology is funding more than $46 million in projects designed to develop additional water supplies throughout eastern Washington. Some $14 million in smaller grants will fund studies or construction costs for 14 conservation and storage projects, while several larger projects are being funded in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project and other irrigation and tribal partnerships...

YAKIMA, WA, Sept. 25, 2008 -- The Washington Department of Ecology is funding more than $46 million in projects designed to develop additional water supplies throughout eastern Washington.

Some $14 million in smaller grants will fund studies or construction costs for 14 conservation and storage projects sponsored by local conservation districts, irrigation concerns and watershed groups, while several larger projects are being funded in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project and other irrigation and tribal partnerships.

The grants were announced at a special meeting of the Columbia River Policy Advisory Group in Moses Lake. The panel -- representing a broad spectrum of interests including agriculture, cities, tribes, environmental groups and state and federal entities -- was consulted as part of the competitive grant process.

In 2006, the Legislature made $200 million available to develop water supplies that enhance stream flows for fish and meet out-of-stream water needs for cities, farms and industry in the Columbia River Basin.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said, "Water is absolutely essential to Washington's environmental and economic welfare. It's what allows our farmers to grow the foods we eat. It fuels an agriculture industry that generates billions of dollars for our state. And water is necessary to protect our fish populations. That's why I am so pleased this grant money will allow the expansion of water supplies to eastern Washington."

Grants will fund a variety of projects from piping unlined irrigation canals to storing water both above and below ground, recharging declining aquifers, and making existing water delivery systems more efficient. Water saved through these projects will be made available for new water rights or released to the river when fisheries need it the most.

Jay Manning, director of Ecology, said: "These projects provide an array of opportunities to develop new water supplies along the Columbia River. They will help us to manage our water more efficiently and in turn make water available to support growing communities and declining fish runs. It's a winning formula for the many competing interests along the river."

Construction projects funded could result in as much as 7,435 acre-feet of additional water to enhance stream flows for fish and 1,449 acre-feet for out-of-stream uses like irrigation. The feasibility studies being funded could yield millions of acre-feet of water to support farms, cities, industry and the environment. The $46.4 million in funding is expected to generate near-term economic activity valued at $87 million.

>> See the list of projects that have been awarded funds in the first competitive grant cycle for the program

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