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Washington Farmers Sue Feds Over Scarce Water Supplies

Farmers who depend on irrigation in the arid central Washington region are escalating a fight over increasingly  scarce water supplies. A group of farmers called the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has filed suit against the US Bureau of Reclamation.

The farmers claim the federal agency is arbitrarily blocking water delivery from the Columbia River through a new private pipeline. The farmers work about 14,000 north of I-90 in what's called the Odessa Subarea. For years, they pumped groundwater to nourish their crops, but the aquifer had dropped to record low levels.

At issue is a privately funded $42-million pipeline to funnel water from the Columbia River to the farmland. But the Bureau of Reclamation has not issued a required water service contract for the pipeline.

The project is a key piece of the irrigators' plan to bring surface water into more than 70,000 acres in the Odessa region. But officials of the federal agency have said the pipeline will interfere in its joint work with the state department of ecology and with other irrigation districts in the area.

Groundwater in the area is disappearing so rapidly that up to half the wells in the region may go dry in the next five years.

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