Water Sustainability Takes Center Stage in Columbia Basin Meeting
August 22, 2023
Access to adequate water supplies is critical to Simplot and to our growers who help us contribute to feeding our world. Water is as key to our business as potatoes or phosphorus.
Recently, Simplot participated in a meeting and tour in Moses Lake, Washington, highlighting the importance of securing additional federal funding to complete the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). This essential collaborative project seeks to preserve the existing Odessa aquifer by replacing irrigation water currently being pumped from the aquifer with water from the Columbia River. It works toward protecting the workers, farmers, and communities who depend on Central Washington's robust agricultural sector, securing clean, available water for the present and future.
The tour, which highlighted some recently constructed infrastructure for the program, started at the Washington Potato Commission headquarters in Moses Lake. From there the group visited pumping infrastructure sites, including pumping stations and a siphon that moves water across low spots in the land. The group then returned to the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) board room to debrief.
Simplot Regional Raw Procurement Manager Dan Robinson is excited about the progress of the expansion project. “It is centered around our key potato storage crop growing region. This is an important time to supply adequate volume and quality water to our ever-expanding growing base in the Columbia Basin,” he pointed out.
The Columbia Basin Conservation District (CBCD) and the ECBID organized the event. Among the approximately 30 attendees, including Simplot, were Chief Terry Cosby, head of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Cosby told tour attendees that there is significant federal money available to help complete the project and he encouraged everyone on the tour to continue lobbying the federal government to obtain a portion of the funding.
“The J.R. Simplot Company has long been involved in efforts to improve access to water in the Columbia Basin including our ongoing support of the Columbia Basin Development League,” said Ken Dey, Simplot’s Director of Government and Public Affairs. “It was very encouraging to see Chief Cosby’s support and encouragement for our efforts. It was clear from those who attended that there is strong non-partisan support at both the state and federal level to make this long-standing goal a reality.”
Others on the tour included Washington State Representatives, a Washington State Senator, and representatives of the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Ecology. Representatives from cities, irrigation districts, Lamb Weston, and the Bureau of Reclamation also attended. Landowners, conservationists, and leadership of the host organizations rounded out the group.
Simplot relies heavily on growers in the Columbia Basin to provide raw product to its potato and vegetable processing plants. Completing the project will help protect the water supplies for communities in the region, while also providing existing irrigators with quality water from the Columbia River and potentially opening additional acres for irrigation in the region.
Simplot’s Moses Lake Field Operations Manager Jeramy Whitaker summed up the benefit nicely. “The opportunity to expand the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project will open up a new land base and put less pressure on deep wells in a declining aquifer.”
Did You Know?
Simplot partners with 33 growers in the Columbia Basin. The Company has two food plants in the area – one in Moses Lake and one in Othello – and recently broke ground on a third.