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NRCS awards the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program $39.9 million through the RCPP


Contact: Kristina Ribellia, CBCD (509) 765-9618 kristina-ribellia@columbiabasincd.org


Contact:

Jennifer Korfiatis, ECBID (509) 669-6979 jennifer.korfiatis@ecbid.org



For Immediate Release: November 6, 2023


Moses Lake, WA. – The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that three of seven Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) proposals submitted by the Columbia Basin Conservation District (CBCD) to the NRCS for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP) in September have been selected for funding, with awards totaling $39.9 million.


The three OGWRP-related proposals that were selected for funding through the RCPP include $13.1 million for the EL 80.6 mainline extension and on-farm buildouts, $19.7 million for the EL 84.7 mainline extension and on-farm buildouts, and $7.2 million for the EL 86.4 on-farm buildouts. Now fully funded for construction, these three large-scale irrigation systems will conserve approximately 55,278 acre-feet of water in the Odessa aquifer each and will replace approximately 18,426 acres of deep well irrigation with reliable Columbia River water through the Columbia Basin Project in Washington state.

“The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program is a tremendous conservation project,” said Roylene Comes At Night, the state conservationist for the NRCS. “I was extremely excited for the future of conservation and agriculture to find out three of the OGWRP-related RCPP projects were funded with $39.9 million. Agriculture is a growing business in Washington, while in many states it is dying. With these funds as a partnership, we will ensure that it continues to grow in conservational sound ways. This goes to show how skilled and dedicated our partners are. Together, we’re going to see this project through to the end and not only conserve water quantity and enhance quality for our farmers in Central Washington yet save the Odessa Aquifer for all future generations to responsibly enjoy.”

NRCS Chief Cosby meets Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP) landowner, Dennis Swinger during his visit to the OGWRP in June 2022.

These RCPP proposals likely would not have been awarded without the state of Washington’s partner contributions totaling $39.8 million dollars through the Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River (OCR) with appropriations from the Washington State Legislature. By combining NRCS’ $39.9 million investment with the state’s recent $32.8 million appropriations and an additional $7 million from the past biennium, the three southern OGWRP systems are now fully funded and able to move forward with construction. ECBID anticipates that construction will begin first with the EL 86.4 before the next irrigation season, which is expected to be March 2024.


“We are pleased that the most recent 2023-2025 Capital Budget Appropriations of $32.8 million was directed by the Columbia Basin Conservation District to leverage NRCS funding that matched and exceeded state dollars with federal dollars for this work,” said Tom Tebb, the director of Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “The additional investment by NRCS will propel the important project work forward in a new way, fueling momentum for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program. I would also like to thank our State Legislature who continue to believe in and support this important project for Washington’s agriculture in the Columbia basin.”

NRCS Chief Cosby met with Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program partners and Washington State Legislators during his visit to the project in June 2023. From Left to Right: Roylene Comes-At-Night, State Conservationist for NRCS Washington, Senator Judy Warnick, Representative Mary Dye, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby, Representative Tom Dent, Derek Sandison, Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Tom Tebb, Director of Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River (OCR), Melissa Downes, Technical & Policy Lead for OCR.

“With the State’s investment of $39.8 million being leveraged to secure $39.9 million of NRCS funding, the ECBID will be closer to the full build-out of the EL 80.6 and EL 84.7, which will have the capacity to deliver replacement water to 13,000 acres of farmland. This is a huge win for the OGWRP and it came at a time when it was most needed. We are so grateful to the Washington State legislators who worked hard in this last session to see this across the finish line, the CBCD who have been closely involved and led the charge for the NRCS RCPP grants, the Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River who have been a great partner in the OGWRP, and the NRCS who have stepped into this effort and really been instrumental in progressing the development of the program,” explained ECBID Development Coordinator Jon Erickson.


Fourteen OGWRP partners came together to contribute $42 million in cash and in-kind support to help ensure the success of the three awarded RCPP proposals, including the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, Department of Ecology's Office of Columbia River, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington State Conservation Commission, Washington State Potato Commission, Washington State University, Lincoln County Conservation District, Franklin Conservation District, Columbia Basin Conservation District, Columbia Basin Development League, Columbia Basin Sustainable Water Coalition, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, and the EL 80.6, 84.7, and 86.4 Landowner Groups.

“This is a significant milestone in a decades-long project and I’m thrilled to see this level of support and momentum, which is a direct result of our strong partnerships. I have no doubt that we are going to make significant progress in our efforts to provide a reliable source of water to landowners and communities within the Odessa subarea,” said Craig Simpson, Secretary-Manager of the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District.

“OGWRP partners, landowners, and legislators have been working diligently over the past three years to secure NRCS funding for the OGWRP. These RCPP awards affirm that our investments of time, energy, and resources dedicated to bringing NRCS to the OGWRP have been worth it. NRCS has been a tremendous partner – and is now stepping up with a new level of commitment and ownership in getting the OGWRP on the ground as soon as possible,” explained Kristina Ribellia, Executive Director for the Columbia Basin Conservation District.


In 2022, NRCS awarded $6 million for OGWRP EL 80.6 and 84.7 on-farm buildouts through the RCPP program. NRCS is now accepting applications for this project through Dec. 8, 2023.


NRCS has a mission to “deliver conservation solutions so agriculture producers can protect natural resources and feed a growing world.” Among milestones in the work to rescue the Odessa Aquifer, ECBID was awarded NRCS Small Watershed Program funding for development of an NRCS-required OGWRP Watershed Plan in order to access additional NRCS funding for pump station and lateral design and construction. The CBCD is helping provide oversight of the watershed plan creation for ECBID with support from the Farmers Conservation Alliance. The Small Watershed Program, referred to as PL-566, requires the development of technically, environmentally, socially, and economically sound watershed project plans with actions scheduled for implementation over a specified period of years. Watershed project plans contain project actions, which are formally planned undertakings carried out within a specified geographic area by sponsors for the benefit of the general public.


Reclamation, OCR, and ECBID have worked together on the OGWRP since 2005. Operating within Reclamation programmatic requirements, the partners completed an environmental impact statement, feasibility analysis, engineering studies and cost estimates. The NRCS Small Watershed Program has its own unique set of planning and funding criteria that must be completed to determine the eligibility of the OGWRP for additional Small Watershed Program funding. Thankfully, a significant portion of the work already accomplished will meet the criteria of the Small Watershed Program process so development of the OGWRP watershed plan can be expedited.


On November 2nd, NRCS issued a notice of intent to adopt Reclamation’s Odessa Subarea Special Study Final Environmental Impact Statement and will be accepting comments through approximately December 8th at www.ogwrp-programs.org/watershed-plan.


“NRCS represents a new funding avenue for OGWRP and hope for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Columbia Basin. We are enthused by NRCS’ commitment to the project,” said Sara Higgins, CBDL Executive Director.


The Columbia Basin Project (CBP) is the water source for thousands of farmers and some municipalities and industrial stakeholders. While waiting for continued development of the CBP, decades ago, the Department of Ecology issued farmers temporary permits to use ground water to irrigate over 100,000 acres. The non-renewable Odessa aquifer declined and now threatens water availability for over 180,000 people and over a dozen rural communities including Lind, Odessa, Connell, Othello, Warden, Hatton, Wilson Creek, Moses Lake, and others. Multiple partners are working together to rescue the declining aquifer and preserve it for environmental and domestic water supply purposes.


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The Columbia Basin Conservation District (CBCD) is a consolidation of several conservation districts that have served Grant County and the irrigated portions of Adams County since 1945. CBCD provides technical and financial assistance to help implement voluntary practices that conserve our natural resources. Like other conservation districts across the country, CBCD has a unique and close working relationship with NRCS. Together, they are able to leverage resources and increase on-the-ground conservation.


Located in central Washington State, the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District is the largest district in the state, with authorization to irrigate 472,000 acres. Currently, 169,000 acres are developed and managed by 4,500 landowners within the federal Columbia Basin Project. Additionally, the District is involved in the development of 87,000 acres associated with the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). The District provides a reliable supply of water that irrigates the cropland that produces food shipped domestically and internationally.


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