PUD contract changes will impact irrigation districts

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EPHRATA — An expiring contract between the Grant County PUD and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could have an impact on costs for irrigators. Utility district commissioners said they would be willing to work with the irrigation districts to alleviate any impacts.

The contract was the subject of an extensive discussion at the Jan. 24 commission meeting.

The contract in question is a “transfer agreement” between the PUD and Bureau of Reclamation. It was part of a larger agreement dating to 1976, when the PUD bought some electrical lines from the Bonneville Power Administration. As part of that sale, said Rod Noteboom of the PUD, the utility agreed to transmit electricity for free for some irrigation district operations. The districts had to pay somebody for the power, either BPA or another supplier, but didn’t have to pay for transmission until the contract expired in 2017.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the PUD have been working on a new contract for about a year, Noteboom said. The proposed contract will be “intent on recovering 100 percent, not more, not less, of the cost attributed to the transfer service,” Noteboom said.

Utility district officials estimated the new charges would be $1,426,000 between the three irrigation districts, Noteboom said. That includes irrigation customers, buildings and outbuildings, and some residences.

That might not be much money as far as the PUD is concerned, but it’s a lot to the irrigation districts, said Darvin Fales, manager of the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District. Fales was one of three district managers to testify before the commission during the open session.

Noteboom said the PUD was negotiating the new contract with the Bureau of Reclamation because that’s who the contract is with.

Fales said irrigation district officials were aware the contract was expiring. But the managers and irrigation district directors didn’t expect it to be that much money, a sentiment echoed by commissioner Tom Flint. “I had no clue it was going to be that much,” Flint said. “It’s a huge hit.”

Fales, Craig Simpson of the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, and David Solem of the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District all said the budgets for 2017 were approved before they heard the details of the expiring contract. Fales asked if the PUD would consider delaying the charges until November, when the 2017 irrigation season ends and the irrigation districts will be working on their 2018 budgets.

Simpson said the extra fees might make a difference to the Odessa subarea project, where irrigators are being switched from groundwater wells to the surface irrigation ditches and pumps.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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