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The Columbia Basin Project and its future

The Othello Outlook of Othello, Washington

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What is the future for farming in the Columbia Basin? For many, the reality is irrigation, with water delivered through infrastructure constructed more than 60 years ago.

At Columbia Basin Development League's annual conference and meeting Tuesday, Oct. 27, all of the speakers addressed what agriculture in the Basin could face in the future and how the CBDL, Bureau of Reclamation and the three irrigation districts that manage the various systems of canals that provides water critical to agriculture in the region are preparing to keep the system running.

The conference started with Tim Tebb, president of the Department of Ecology's Office of the Columbia River, addressing the state of the 2015 drought and some of the impacts of this year's reduced snow pack.

In addition to drastic impacts on fisheries and habitats that remained parched for much of the year, the drought also had significant impacts on agriculture. Two irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin project were forced into mid-season closures due to a lack of water available.

However, the sacrifices of farmers created an opportunity to preserve the ecosystems of eight different tributaries with water from the Yakima Basin Irrigation District.

The next speaker, state climatologist Nick Bond, also touched on the drought this year but focused his discussion on regional and global weather that could be expected in 2020 based on climate models.

"They are a tool for assessing or estimating what is going to happen, but they're not perfect," he said.

Over the past four centuries, climate data has been showing a slight upward trend, Bond said. By 2020, he expected to see a rise in the minimum temperatures experienced by region but not necessarily in the maximum temperatures. He also estimated a slight increase to precipitation, with more falling earlier in the year.

"We don't know which of these models is more reliable," Bond said. "And so we have to just look at them as a group and make very, sort of, general statements about what's happening, but the strong consensus is that it's warming and it's a fairly strong consensus that it's getting wetter."

This year — 2015 — will likely go down as the warmest on record, Bond said, but it does not reflect the norm for future temperatures as was referred to by Bond as a fluke event.

Other speakers included Roger Sonnichsen, technical service manager for the Quin-cy Columbia Basin Irrigation District, who touched on the efficiency of the canal system; Nate Andreini, technical services and district engineer for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District discussed the coordinated conservation plan; and John O'Callaghan, superintendent of field operations for South Columbia Basin Irrigation District discussed water supply security and some of the greatest challenges the irrigation district face protecting their systems.

Other speakers included Tim Culbertson, manager of Columbia Basin Hydro Power; Clint Wertz, Ephrata field officer manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and Troy Peters, Extension irrigation specialist and associate scientist for Washington State University.

Toward the end of the conference Ian Lyle and Mike Schwisow discussed government contributions to the project, with Schwisow focusing on Washington state's investment into the project and Lyle touching on the current situation of how the federal government funds water projects.

The conference concluded with East Columbia Basin Irrigation District Development coordinator discussing the progress on the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program being pursued by the ECBID, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Ecology.

The conference concluded before guests were welcomed back into the hall to enjoy dinner and to listen to Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, give the keynote address.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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