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(Columbia-Snake River) Irrigator group sues Bureau of Reclamation

Matthew Weaver, Capital Press May 1, 2015

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Board representative Darryll Olsen said the group wants movement on water service contracts for their efforts to replace declining aquifer water with water from the Columbia River.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association filed a lawsuit April 30 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, claiming the agency is holding up construction of an expanded irrigation system by delaying issuance of a water service contract.

The association filed the lawsuit against the bureau; its commissioner, Estevan Lopez; and Pacific Northwest regional director Lorri Lee in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

“It’s really too early for us to make any kind of comment, and any comments would be dependent on the advice of our counsel,” agency public affairs officer Venetia Gempler said.

The association alleges in the lawsuit that the agency “arbitrarily delayed and blocked” a new water service contract for a privately funded $42 million pipeline to deliver surface water east from the East Low Canal to roughly 14,000 acres of farmland north of Interstate 90 in the Odessa Subarea. The association has completed pre-construction engineering.

The pipeline is the first step in CSRIA’s overall project to bring surface water irrigation from the Columbia River to roughly 70,000 acres of farmland in the Odessa Subarea. The bureau has said that CSRIA’s project interferes with its plans with the state Department of Ecology and three irrigation districts in the area.

Farms in the Odessa Subarea rely on rapidly diminishing well water for irrigation.

Darryll Olsen, board representative for CSRIA, said he hopes the court will order the bureau to immediately review and issue the water service contract within 60 days. CSRIA has commitments from several agricultural lenders, Olsen said.

“We have that financing totally secured, and we’ve lost a year of construction because of the delay in the bureau issuing the contract,” Olsen said.

The bureau will review the complaint and determine its next steps, Gempler said.



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