Governor signs Dye bill allowing use of water saved with highly efficient irrigation systems within the Columbia Basin Project area

A bill authored by Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, which clarifies the water right serving the Columbia Basin Project (CBP), received Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature Friday.

House Bill 1752 authorizes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to apply and obtain approval for water right modifications and provides farmers flexibility as new pumping systems are developed to save the Odessa Aquifer.

According to Dye, efficient use of federal water would assist in getting the most value from large public irrigation systems under construction by allowing more acres to be served without impacting the watershed.

“We water very differently today than when water rights were first issued to the Bureau of Reclamation within the Columbia Basin Project. We use technology to be very precise in the use of water resources so that not one drop of water is wasted,” said Dye. “This bill brings our water law in alignment with the current technology that is saving millions of gallons of water. It also allows the infrastructure we are building within the project to be used with maximum efficiency so none of the land that could be irrigated is wasted.”

The bill corrects a provision in the law that inadvertently required an annual consumptive use calculation that was not intended for the federal water rights in the Columbia Basin. The measure clarifies that water from the Columbia Basin project may be used to irrigate additional acres.

Dye notes substantial improvements in irrigation efficiency over the last 75 years have saved enough water that acres could be added to improve the efficient use of the irrigation canals and pipelines delivering Columbia Basin water.

“This is not your grandfather’s irrigation system,” added Dye. “Geo-positioning satellites and soil sensors can show us where our water use is going so that we can dial that in and be very precise with our water applications. Producers use pipelines, high-tech circle pivots, and drip irrigation to prevent water loss.”

Dye says that among new technologies being utilized, the federal government is also requiring broadband fiber to be installed in all pipeline systems. This allows large public delivery systems to operate with SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), a control system used for canals and pumping stations. An added benefit is to improve producers’ access to their on-farm systems with apps on their cell phones.

“This gives us the ability to communicate with our circle pivots through our cell phones. With the technology we install in the fields, we know exactly how much water is going into the soil and what the plants need and when they need it,” Dye noted. “This bill recognizes that the new technology is being used so that we’re not losing water to evaporation or wasting water from runoff. We’re creating a system where the water goes specifically for the plant’s use and to feed a hungry world with the most efficient use of precious water.”

Dye says the crops grown within the CBP currently produce the equivalent of the annual groceries purchased by nearly 9 million Americans.

In addition to the bill, Dye has also been working to expand irrigation for the other 35% of the CBP authorized by Congress, including new pipelines and irrigation systems to provide groundwater replacement in the Odessa Aquifer area, where deep water wells are drying up. The project currently serves 671,000 acres for irrigation, or about 65% of the 1.29 million acres originally authorized in the 1930s by Congress, in portions of Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams, and Franklin counties.

“We have $70 million of state and federal money going for construction of pipelines on the southern portion of the Odessa groundwater replacement project, including $32.8 million from last year’s state capital budget and another $5.5 million from this year’s supplemental capital budget,” said Dye. “Those pipelines will replace about 19,000 acres of deep well-irrigated ground and will save water in the aquifer for communities that depend on it as much as the farms.”

House Bill 1752 passed the House and Senate unanimously. It becomes law on June 6.


Washington State House Republican Communications