It has been an exciting year for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP), an aquifer rescue mission, transferring deep well irrigators to Columbia Basin Project surface water. We’ve seen several wins, and it’s only the third quarter.
From kicking off the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program (WFPO or PL-566) watershed planning process to record state appropriations ($32.8 million!) to USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Cosby visiting the OGWRP in June and beyond – there has been much to celebrate and plenty to do.
This summer, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) and Columbia Basin Conservation District (CBCD) worked closely to develop a funding and implementation strategy that would maximize and leverage the state’s appropriations to aggressively and competitively pursue immediate NRCS funding opportunities – namely through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which would ultimately help fund the OGWRP delivery systems and on-farm infrastructure to connect to OGWRP.
But first, ECBID needed to determine where the state’s $32.8 million for OGWRP could best be spent over the next two years. As a starting place, ECBID staff considered the Legislature’s requirement that the funds be spent only on delivery systems that reached the 30% design threshold by July 1, 2023. There were five systems that met this criteria: EL 11.8, EL 22.1, EL 80.6, EL 84.7, and EL 86.4.
Once the five qualifying systems were identified, ECBID staff analyzed multiple factors, including past state funding with an existing spending deadline, federal funding awarded, and the overall benefit to the OGWRP, including the least cost for the most acres taken off of the aquifer. Based on this analysis, staff identified that the $32.8 million would best be applied for constructing the EL 80.6, EL 84.7, and EL 86.4 public delivery systems. The ECBID Board discussed the staff recommendation in June with input from members of the public and passed a motion to apply for the $32.8 million for the three public delivery systems.
ECBID Development Coordinator Jon Erickson worked with the Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River (OCR) on the funding application. Consistent with the intent of the legislative proviso, Erickson worked to ensure that all five systems were included in the grant agreement to maximize flexibility and opportunities where needed. The initial proposed grant tasks will allow ECBID to move forward with construction activities for the EL 80.6, EL 84.7, and EL 86.4 public delivery systems over the next two years.
With ECBID’s direction on the FY23-25 state funding, CBCD and ECBID staff worked swiftly to evaluate if and where the state funding could be used as partner contributions (match) for CBCD’s RCPP proposals. A funding strategy was developed that identified 11 potential RCPP proposals for the five systems that met the 30% design threshold by the July 1st deadline.
Given RCPP funding limitations and grant requirements, CBCD determined that the EL 11.8 system would not qualify for RCPP at this time and moved forward with developing and submitting 7 RCPP proposals, with funding requests totaling over $135 million. The RCPP proposals were submitted on August 18th.
Seven RCPP proposals totaling over $135 million is a large request and a lofty undertaking. However, ECBID and CBCD are motivated by a rapidly declining aquifer, unprecedented state match, and the Chief of NRCS giving directives to be aggressive.
Thankfully, tremendous support from OGWRP partners continues, and they have pledged partner contributions to help the RCPP proposals be as competitive as possible. Together, our partners have committed $48 million dollars. These contributing partners include:
East Columbia Basin Irrigation District
Department of Ecology's Office of Columbia River ($32.8 million)
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
EL 22.1 Landowner Group
EL 80.6 Landowner Group
EL 84.7 Landowner Group
EL 86.4 Landowner Group
The following table illustrates how ECBID and CBCD staff envision state and RCPP funding to be combined and leveraged to accelerate OGWRP construction activities over the next five years. NRCS will be announcing RCPP awards in December of this year. The award announcements will inform how OGWRP partners and landowners move forward.
In the meantime, NRCS, ECBID, CBCD, and the greater PL-566 watershed planning team will continue making progress on the PL-566 watershed plan—an NRCS requirement that is needed in order to request NRCS PL-566 funding for OGWRP design and construction activities. The plan is expected to be completed and approved by Congress in 2025. Once the plan is approved, it is anticipated that ECBID, acting as the PL-566 Sponsor, will move forward with PL-566 funding requests to help fund the remaining delivery systems.
For another update on OGWRP, join Kristina Ribellia, CBCD Executive Director and Jon Erickson, ECBID Development Coordinator at the CBDL Conference and 59th Annual Meeting in Moses Lake on November 14th.
CBCD’s work to pursue and secure USDA-NRCS funding for the OGWRP is made possible thanks to our Washington State Legislators and the Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River.