Odessa Solutions



The depleted aquifers of Odessa present a dramatic problem, but one that has been a very long time in the making.  Washington state has known since 1963 that deep well irrigation was mining the Odessa Aquifers.  The state’s approach to water management since that time has been irresponsible in the extreme. 

The responsible parties, however, are not simply state regulators or the politicians who have stood by watching the problem unfold, sometimes obstructing solutions (for example, intervening to prevent the state from requiring that Odessa wells be sealed).  Odessa farmers themselves have long known that they are overpumping the aquifers and using uncased wells that allow water to cascade to unreachable depths.

Given this history, should the public pay to bail out Odessa Subarea irrigators?  Most proposed solutions would tap into the taxpayer pocketbook, some in a very large way.  Several solutions would affect the public interest in other ways: by diverting yet more water out of the already stressed Columbia River, or building dams that inundate some of the last pieces of natural habitat remaining on the Columbia Plateau.

Should the public pay?  And if so, why? 

There are very few sustainable solutions to the Odessa problem. 

oLimited quantities of water may be available through water conservation project on the Columbia Basin Project.  Transferring water to Odessa farms could be a neutral solution, if the publicly funded percentage of conservation projects results in commensurate public benefits (e.g., for fish and wildlife), and Odessa irrigators finance the infrastructure to extend water to their farms.

oPaying farmers to not irrigate is not a sustainable solution absent a distinct public benefit.  Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Odessa Aquifers will rebound even if pumping declines significantly.

oReversion to dry-land cropping is a sustainable and taxpayer neutral approach.

This section examines various proposed solutions.


When considering Odessa Subarea problems, it is important to keep in mind that the region is divisible into two parts.  Western Odessa lands fall within the boundaries of the Columbia Basin Project as originally approved by Congress.  Irrigated acreage in this area totals about 121,000 acres.  In contrast, the eastern sector of the Odessa Subarea is outside CBP boundaries, and was never intended to be a beneficiary of Columbia Basin Project irrigation water.

Irrigators in both eastern and western sector Odessa are seeking replacement water.  Limitations on topography and geology would make it extremely difficult and expensive to transport and deliver water to eastern sector Odessa farms.  Delivery to western sector farms, while technically feasible, would also be very expensive in terms of infrastructure (canals, pumps, etc.).  Sending water to any part of the Odessa Subarea would require water supply that is not readily available and would come at a very high cost.

Next:    Direct Buy-Outs

Map showing the Odessa Subarea

Note that the subarea has a western and an eastern half.  Click here to enlarge.   (source:   Initial Alternative Development & Evaluation, Odessa Subarea Special Study, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Sept. 2006)

Columbia Institute for Water Policy

o   Direct Buy-Outs 
o   Water Importation 
o   Water Conservation
o   Dryland Cropping
o   Conclusion


 Odessa Summary Points
  The Odessa Aquifers
  Columbia Basin Project
  1971 WSU Study
  Cascading Wells
  Impacts on Crab Creek
  Odessa Economics