The Okanogan Irrigation District (OID) and the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) have collaborated on a project to restore anadromous fish to Salmon Creek, a tributary of the Okanogan River in the Okanogan subbasin of the Columbia Cascade Province. Part of the Proposed Project would be paid for with Bonneville funds (Fish and Wildlife Funds) managed by the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program. As part of the Council’s responsibility to ensure the cost effectiveness of the projects it funds, it has requested the Independent Economic Analysis Board (IEAB) to review the Salmon Creek project. The IEAB review has focused on the aspects of the Proposed Project that are intended to increase in-stream flows in Salmon Creek.
The IEAB’s review has been facilitated by a well-documented screening level analysis of many options that were considered in developing the Proposed Project. The Okanogan Irrigation District and the Colville Confederated Tribes should be commended for their initiative and investment to develop a viable project to restore flows in Salmon Creek.
The Proposed Project was developed within the context of the OID/CCT project mission: to restore anadromous fish to Salmon Creek while maintaining the ability of the irrigation district to continue water delivery to its users. The Proposed Project includes (1) improved water control, (2) on-farm efficiency to reduce irrigation water use, (3) a new pump station on the Okanogan River, (4) increased storage capacity in an upstream reservoir, and (5) temporary utilization of a water bank until the other project elements can be implemented. Most of the water needed to replace Salmon Creek supplies would be provided by the new pump station on the Okanogan River.
The Proposed Project would improve local water supply reliability and have other benefits in addition to restoring Salmon Creek flows. In recognition of these multiple benefits, joint funding by Bonneville and state and federal government agencies has been proposed. The proposed Bonneville share of the funding is about half, which seems to be roughly appropriate given the local economic benefits stemming from the proposal and the roles of other funding organizations.
The IEAB finds that the Proposed Project is reasonably cost effective within the stated project goals. However, within a broader economic context, the cost effectiveness of increasing in-stream flows would likely be improved by inclusion of a permanent water bank or other methods for leasing or purchasing water. Using markets to obtain voluntary reductions in water delivered to irrigators would reduce the need to pump water from the Okanogan River, increase downstream flows and power production, and benefit landowners who are experiencing low economic returns from irrigated agriculture. Purchase or lease of water to reduce costs of pumping would be most cost effective when electricity prices are high. Further, reduced pumping in dry years would improve Okanogan River flows and quality. A water market approach to stream flow enhancement could be tailored to respond to contingencies such as electricity price surges and unusually dry weather. Inclusion of such a system, if politically feasible, would be innovative and challenging, but it would, in our view, increase the overall cost effectiveness of the proposal.
Because the Proposed Project has the potential of increasing water supplies to the irrigation district, the Council should request assurances from the irrigation district that increased water supplies and water saved through improved efficiency will not be used to increase irrigated acreage. Also, a more detailed operations plan for Salmon Creek storage facilities should be developed and approved by OID, CCT and the Council. There will be years in which there is simply not enough water available in the Salmon Creek watershed to meet recommended flows. Salmon Creek operations should be clearly defined for years when supplies are insufficient.