Machinists work on project to save declining aquifer

OTHELLO — Machinists Union members who work for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District are digging deep to protect the future of irrigated farming in Central Washington.

Irrigation3Members of Machinists Union Local Lodge 1951 are working on project to allow farmers to replace the water they pump from deep wells with water from the Columbia River.

At stake: enough water to irrigate 88,000 acres of Central Washington farmland, which produces an estimated $840 million worth of produce annually, supporting 3,600 jobs.

The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program, as it is called, will allow those farmers to stop using water from the Odessa aquifer, which is in decline. The groundwater has been depleted to the extent that water now must be pumped from wells as deep as 2,400 feet.

Water pumped from such depths is hot and has high sodium concentrations. It also requires a great deal of electricity to pump it to the surface. Even deeper wells will be required as the aquifers decline further.

To correct this, the Washington Department of Ecology is providing funds to bring more Columbia River water to the area.

That’s where the Machinists come in. They are now helping dig the first phase of the project, which includes widening a 45-mile stretch of irrigation canal.

Irrigation1It’s an enormous task: The canal now is wider than a two-lane road at the bottom and is as deep as a three-story building. The scale of the canal dwarfs the Machinists’ dump trucks and excavators. Plus, as the Machinists expand the canal, the bridges and other infrastructure must also be modified to accommodate it.

A second phase of the project will add barrels to the canal’s existing siphons so they can carry additional water. Ultimately, new pumping stations and pressurized pipelines will be installed to deliver water from the Columbia River to eligible landowners around Odessa.

Originally organized in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 32,000 working men and women at 50 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. They are served by a network of local lodges that includes Local 86 in Spokane, Local 1123 in Wenatchee and Local 1951 in Richland.

Check out IAM 751’s award-winning YouTube channel.

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