CSRIA's Proposed Changes to the VRA

Background

On July 18, 2008, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Columbia Snake River Irrigators Association (CSRIA) entered into a Voluntary Regional Agreement (VRA) to develop a program where new water rights could be issued to CSRIA members based on conservation projects they implement. The VRA is allowed under the authority of the Columbia River legislation, passed in 2006.

The Office of Columbia River (OCR) agreed to fund three VRA pilot projects --picked by CSRIA with OCR’s approval. The projects would investigate using conservation projects to retime return flows to the Columbia and Snake rivers to benefit stream flows during the fish-critical summer months.

VRA Home Page

Read the VRA

 

 

Key Documents & Information

Final VRA

VRA Statute (disallows water withdrawal that would decrease flows in certain months)

CSRIA's New Proposal

OCR's Counter Proposal

 

The new CSRIA proposal

OCR continues to fund the pilot projects, as agreed. However, CSRIA is now advancing a new proposal that would create unmitigated impacts to the Columbia River.

CSRIA’s new proposal would retroactively convert decades-old water conservation savings into new acres of irrigation, which would reduce water supply in the Columbia River. The CSRIA proposal calls for half of the saved water to be returned for use for new irrigation purposes.

Read CSRIA's proposal

 


Proposal violates statute

The proposal violates the statute governing voluntary regional agreements. RCW 90.90.030, states there can be “no negative impact on the Columbia River mainstem flows during July and August…” and “…no negative impact on the Snake River mainstem flows from April through August as a result of the new appropriations issued under the agreement.”

According to CSRIA figures, the proposal would reduce water in the Columbia by 44,000 acre-feet in July, alone.

Proposal not what CRSIA agreed to

The VRA signed by CSRIA in July 2008 looks forward and funds three pilot projects to see if permits can be based on conserved water for new projects. The current proposal looks backward, relying on decades-old water savings.

PAG provides its input

CSRIA shared its proposal with the Columbia River Policy Advisory Group (PAG). After PAG stakeholders expressed concern about irrigating new acres with a water duty that hasn’t been used for decades, Ecology attempted to work with CSRIA to modify the proposal.

Notes from the PAG meeting

OCR offers compromise that will protect summer stream flows.

OCR’s counter-proposal is modeled on the very successful Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project which allows those who conserve water to keep one-third of the savings to irrigate new land. Only new conservation savings would be eligible. Unlike the CSRIA proposal, the counter-proposal would not violate statute because there would be no decrease in stream flows.

OCR’s suggestions for a forward-looking pilot program were not accepted by CSRIA.

Read about OCR’s counter-proposal

 

Other information