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Oregon to take bids on Umatilla water study

ECHO, Ore. – Irrigators in Eastern Oregon hope to replenish their aquifers by drawing water from the Columbia River and injecting it into large underground storage areas.

The idea would be to refill underground aquifers with water from the Columbia River during the high-water winter months when fish are not migrating, then allow farmers and other users to draw from that water during the dry summer months.

State officials next week will ask contractors for bids on a $750,000 feasibility study. The award will be announced March 21, said Debbie Colbert, senior policy coordinator for the Water Resources Department.

The contractor will be asked to show how water can be drawn from the Columbia and be allowed to percolate to a shallow alluvial aquifer. From there, some of it would be pumped out and injected into deeper basalt aquifers, where it would be stored for use in the summer months.

Farmers in the region have proposed drawing up to 80,000 acre-feet of water from the Columbia during the winter.

“That means a lot to us,” said Echo farmer Kent Madison, chairman of the Umatilla Groundwater Task Force.

Water availability is a major issue in the Umatilla basin. Because of shortages, irrigation districts, communities and farms last year drew only 30 percent of the water allocated to them under the state’s water rights permit system.

State officials have estimated that restoring full water rights could increase the value of crops raised in the basin by $30 million annually.

The water bill approved last week was a less-expensive version of the original proposal. Supporters asked for funding of the Umatilla study and $10 million in state lottery-backed bonds to finance similar studies elsewhere in the state. Only $1.7 million was allocated for that purpose.