Pipeline Project Delivers Water to Dry Parcels, New Money for Schools
News Date: 
May 21, 2019
   

Benton County project protects $41 million in irrigation rights, will generate $625,000 annually for K-12 school construction, Washington State University

 
A newly completed 8-mile pipeline from the Columbia River in Southeast Washington will allow the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to irrigate more than 3,000 acres of public land for the first time, more than quadrupling the money generated from the property for schools across the state.
 
DNR was set to lose the water rights, valued at more than $41 million, at the end of 2020 because they had not been put to beneficial use. But a new lessee agreed to pay for the estimated $22.8 million investment up front, preserving the rights and increasing the revenue dedicated for schools that is generated on the lands.
 
“The Paterson irrigation project is a long-term investment in the future of Washington students and Washington agriculture,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “This forward-thinking investment is helping revitalize the local economy and increasing the revenue we generate for essential public services.”
 
By irrigating the land in the Horse Heaven Hills north of Paterson, more valuable crops – such as potatoes, onions, and corn – can be grown on the 5,047-acre property, which is located on state trust lands. Because irrigated farmland is more valuable, DNR generates more money from its lease of the property, which increases the money raised for the Common School Trust and the Agricultural School Trust. The Common School Trust funds K-12 school construction across the state, and the Agricultural School Trust funds building construction for Washington State University.
 
“Agriculture is extremely important to the economic health of Benton County, as well as all of Eastern Washington, and we are pleased to see DNR putting this important water right to beneficial use,” said Carl Adrian, President of the Tri-City Development Council. “While much of the land to be served with the new pipeline was productive for dryland crops, irrigation will increase both productivity and crop values, growing our regional economy.”
 
Of the 5,047 acres of land being leased, 3,115 will be irrigated, 939 will be preserved as wildlife habitat, and the remainder will not be in production. The project is estimated to increase the rental revenue on the property, previously used for wheat farming, from approximately $150,000 to $625,000 annually. The lessee is installing 30 irrigation pivots on the property, of which up to 20 can be active at any time to use the 17,600-gallon-per-minute water right.
 
The lessee built and paid for the pipeline in exchange for reduced rent until the cost of the project is recouped. Once the cost of construction is repaid, the pipeline will become an asset of the state and the lessee will begin paying full rent. The lease will expire Dec. 31, 2043.
 
DNR manages nearly 6 million acres of public forest, rangeland, tidelands, and commercial properties across Washington.
 
The Paterson irrigation project is part of Commissioner Franz’s Rural Communities Partnership Initiative (RCPI), an ongoing effort to spur investment and job creation using natural resources throughout Washington. Past RCPI projects include the development of solar power on state lands in Southeast Washington, the retrofitting and reopening of a lumber mill in Raymond, and a partnership with the Kalama School District to help students manage a 32-acre forest adjacent to the district’s Middle-High School.
 
Media Resources: 
Drone footage showing irrigation pivots working at the Paterson property and various parts of the redevelopment of the trust lands is available at deptofnaturalresources.box.com/v/PatersonVideo
 
A map of the area is available upon request. 
 
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MEDIA CONTACT
Kenny Ocker
Communications Manager
Department of Natural Resources