Aquifer Rescue in Odessa

By Kris Polly

Since 2011, the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) has played a major role in implementing the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP), an initiative to build out the Columbia Basin Project to its full dimensions and bring surface water to the Odessa subarea, where groundwater pumping has begun to seriously deplete the local aquifer. In this month’s cover story, we interview ECBID Secretary-Manager Craig Simpson about progress on OGWRP. 

In the Southwest, long-term drought in the Colorado basin is starting to bite, with automatic cuts in water deliveries kicking in after August’s tier 1 shortage declaration. To learn more, we speak with Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

Two years ago, the unthinkable happened for Nebraska’s Gering–Fort Laramie Irrigation District (GFLID). One of its water conveyance tunnels collapsed, leaving it without water for more than a month during the most critical time of the year. GFLID Manager Rick Preston tells us about the hard work the district put in to get water flowing again. 

Next, we speak with Dr. Khaled Bali and Dr. Stephen Kaffka, two University of California experts who were involved in studying the benefits of automating the surface irrigation of sugar beets in the Imperial Valley. Using Rubicon gates and software, they demonstrated an increase in water use efficiency from 70–75 percent to 85 percent. 

In response to recent discussions of the breach of several dams on the lower Snake River, technology company Whooshh made a counterproposal that would cost 500 times less: placing its Passage Portal fish passage systems at the dams in question instead. These systems safely transport fish over dams in seconds rather than the hours or days required by conventional fish ladders. 

Evans Equipment Inc. buys, refurbishes, and sells Caterpillars and other heavy work equipment, often disassembling the machines to the frame and completely rebuilding them. President Brad Evans tells us about the cost savings this allows the company to pass on to customers, including irrigation districts. 

Addressing the challenges faced by irrigated agriculture in the United States will require considerable ingenuity and effort. Luckily, as the stories in this magazine show, our industry is full of smart, hard working individuals. Let’s all roll up our sleeves to help secure the future of irrigated ag. 

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and the president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at