Thursday, August 24, 2006

Complete the Eastern Portion of the Columbia Basin Project and Water the Odessa Region?

Oregon Public Broadcasting, By Austin Jenkins
"The federal government is dusting off a plan from the 1940s. It calls for continuing construction of the Columbia Basin Project. The CBP -- as it's known -- brought Columbia River water to sagebrush country through a series of canals. Now the idea is to extend the system to the Odessa Aquifer area -- something that was always part of the plan. This would allow farmers to switch from well water to river water. Ellen Berggren with the federal Bureau of Reclamation is heading a five-year feasibility study. Ellen Berggren: 'The Columbia Basin Project was authorized by Congress to irrigate 1,029,000 acres and it's currently irrigating about 671,000 acres.' The question is whether it makes economic and environmental sense to bring river water to another 100,000 plus acres of farmland. Ellen Berggren: 'One of the very important considerations in our study is looking at ways of getting water -- which would ultimately have to come from the Columbia River -- in a manner that will not affect Columbia River flow targets for fish.' That's a key concern for Rob Masonis with the environmental group American Rivers. After all the Columbia Basin Project was crafted more than sixty years ago. Long before water had to be set aside for endangered salmon. Rob Masonis: 'It may be that you could move water around within the Columbia Basin project to serve those farms in question without further depleting the Columbia River. Where it will get more difficult from the perspective of the environmental community is where we're talking about further degrading resources that are already seriously degraded.' Masonis says it's too early to know if this has the potential of turning into a protracted legal battle."