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'Water is everything': State legislators add money for local irrigation, projects in capital budget

| May 11, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Legislators included a number of local projects — including two major irrigation expansions and repair work to the Soap Lake city hall — as part of Washington’s $6 billion capital budget for 2021-23.

The state has set aside $21 million to help fund the design and construction of two water systems off the East Low Canal — $5 million for the EL 22.1 irrigation system northeast of Moses Lake and $16 million for the EL 79.2 project east of Othello — as part of the provision of Columbia Basin Project water to areas currently irrigating with water pumped from deep wells.

“This will get the cost down to where growers can reliably afford it,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who has taken charge of getting funding for the overall Odessa groundwater replacement project. “It has to be affordable to farmers.”

The extension projects, referred to using their mile marker on the East Low Canal, south from the canal’s origin point, are intended to bring irrigation water into the eastern portion of the Columbia Basin Project originally meant to be served by the East High Canal. Funding for that canal was cut in the early 1970s, and it remains unbuilt.

Beginning in the 1960s, farmers in the areas instead applied for permits to use well water pumped from the Odessa Aquifer. However, pumping for irrigation has rapidly depleted that aquifer, and landowner groups have banded together to secure state and federal funding to help build out smaller irrigation systems.

The EL 22.1, for example, would serve around 16,000 acres, between Road N Northeast and Road W Northeast, and include pump stations, a connection to the canal, and 12 miles of pipe to provide irrigation water to subscribers.

Even though EL 22.1 is in her district, Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said she is happy to let Schoesler take the lead on securing funding for irrigation expansion.

“We kind of share that,” she said.

Schoesler said the work is important since agriculture fuels the region’s economy.

“Water is everything in the Columbia Basin,” he said. “There is a promise to finish the Columbia Basin Project, and this is part of the solution, something we need to do for the region’s economy.”

Elsewhere in the region, legislators secured $1.9 million to help Community Services of Moses Lake build a new warehouse for the county’s food bank, $1.3 million for Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce’s business incubator project, $157,000 to help rebuild the Soap Lake city hall, $856,000 for an early learning center at Soap Lake Elementary School, and $320,000 for the Soap Lake School District.

“I remember touring the facility a couple years ago during one of my district listening tours, and it definitely needs repairs and renovations,” wrote Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, about the Soap Lake city hall funding, in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

“The food bank is the biggest thing for me,” Warnick said. “We’ve seen construction costs jump and we were fortunate to get that.”

The capital budget was one of three budgets, including the state’s 2021-23, $59 billion operating budget ($122 billion including federal funding) and $9 billion transportation budget, the state legislature was required to pass during this spring session.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.