Water Resources:

Issues Concerning Expanded Irrigation in the Columbia Basin Project

RCED-86-82BR: Published: Jan 31, 1986. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 1986.

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In response to congressional requests, GAO reviewed the economic and environmental impacts of expanding the irrigated acreage in the Columbia Basin Project from 556,000 acres to nearly 1.1 million acres.

GAO found that the Bureau of Reclamation's 1984 cost/benefit analysis did not conform to the Water Resources Council's principles and guidelines for preparing such analyses. As a result, the costs were understated and the benefits overstated. The Bureau recognized the limitations of its analysis and has contracted with a consulting firm to perform a major study of the economic and environmental feasibility of expanding the project which will follow the council's principles and guidelines. However, in its economic analysis of the project, the Bureau's consultant will be evaluating the project's impacts on income and employment only within Washington, even though electricity users throughout the four-state Bonneville Power Administration marketing area will be paying for the project. The Bureau's 1984 analysis showed that 46 percent of the construction costs would be paid by irrigators, 34 percent by power users, and 20 percent by Washington State. The Bureau's estimates were in contrast with two other studies which concluded that U.S. taxpayers would pay about 80 percent of the project costs. The other two studies included interest costs in their analyses indicating that these costs, although not repaid, are a project expense. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the state consultant studies indicated that the proposed expansion would not adversely affect fish, wildlife, or water quality.

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