Banks Lake drawdown in “preferred alternative” to bolster farm irrigation
After seven years of study, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Dept. of Ecology have identified a solution to drying wells in potato country south of Grand Coulee Dam: draw down Banks Lake farther in August.
The agencies issued last Friday a statement that they have completed the “Odessa Subarea Special Study Final Environmental Impact Statement” (FEIS).
The study identifies several alternatives to address a declining aquifer and avoid collapsing a reported $600 million annual farm industry that currently relies on drying-up wells, mostly within the orignal bounds of the never-finished Columbia Basin Project.
Over the years, the agencies offered several alternatives, took public comments on them, then decided on two other alternatives, finally blessing one they call 4A.
That would irrigate 70,000 acres of land with water from Banks Lake, resulting in an extra 3.1 feet off the top in August each year, over and above what is currently drawn down.
The study identifies several “adverse impacts” on recreation in Banks Lake, including loss of the use of boat ramps for one to four weeks, loss of three of four swimming areas for about six weeks and exposure of boating hazards for four to seven weeks.
The Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project criticized the plan Friday, charging that a lack of transparency in the Bureau’s overall piecemeal approach to planning, and that it’s a “water grab” to divert more water from the river even though a treaty with Canada set to expire in 2024 will likely greatly alter operations at Grand Coulee Dam.
Reclamation can issue a Record of Decision 30 days after its published in the Federal Register.
The two-volume document can be downloaded at http://ow.ly/dtdGL , or requested by calling (509) 575-5848, ext. 603.