New Law Delivers Water to Eastern Washington State

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation that will release the largest delivery of new water to towns and farms in the Columbia Basin, and for endangered salmon, in three decades.

Thanks to a historic partnership among state, federal, and tribal governments, the new law will allow up to 82,500 acre feet of water to be withdrawn from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam beginning this year and up to 132,000 acre feet of water in drought years.

"This legislation strikes the right balance between payments to the tribes and the use of state funds," said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, the bill's prime sponsor. "Those combined funds put in place a project to provide approximately 82,000 acre feet of water to thirsty cities and farms throughout the basin, and will help to secure adequate fish passage flows as well during dry years. The economic benefits throughout the Columbia Basin from the additional water make this one of the best investments we made all session."

Under the agreement, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Spokane Tribe of Indians will receive an annual payment of approximately $3.75 million and $2.25 million respectively, adjusted for inflation. The funding doesn't purchase water or water rights from the tribes but is being provided to enhance fisheries, protect the environment, preserve cultural resources, and other activities.

Local governments around Lake Roosevelt will receive $2 million to address impacts from the release of the new water. The additional water will bring stability to areas affected by the dwindling Odessa aquifer, which has been dropping at an average rate of 7 feet per year.
Had this legislation not been enacted, loss of irrigation water in the area could have cost the agricultural region $600 million a year in lost revenue and the elimination of 7,500 jobs. The Lake Roosevelt releases, which will lower lake levels no more than an additional 1.5 feet below current operations, will:

• Supply additional surface water to irrigators of 10,000 acres of land east of Moses Lake
• Offer more certainty to those who have interruptible water rights in times of drought
• Provide new water supplies to municipalities with pending water right applications
• Bolster the state's economy and
• Help ensure the survival of salmon by increasing stream flow in the river in late summer, when fish need it most.

The state will also avoid purchasing water at current market rates, which would be cost- prohibitive for a quantity similar to that coming from Lake Roosevelt. The Washington Department of Ecology is on track to issue new water permits as early as fall 2008.

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