Price tag high for stimulus funded irrigation projects

The good news is that the Sunnyside Divison received $21.4 million from federal stimulus money to enclose large areas of its irrigation laterals this winter and next.

The bad news is the project is going to cost $10 million to $15 million more than anticipated.

Don Schramm is SVID's assistant manager of engineering, and he said the higher than anticipated cost is due to the nature of stimulus projects.

Initial estimates were the two-year project would cost $32.9 million, with the Sunnyside Division paying only $5.7 million because of stimulus and state matching funds.

"The best way I can summarize it is estimates we had for the work did not assume stimulus requirements," Schramm said of additional costs that could hike the total price tag upwards to near $48 million.

Among the requirements are buying American, paying prevailing wages and complying with significant reporting requirements as work proceeds.

Schramm said the division anticipated higher costs to a certain extent, but not higher than expected bids in a tight economy. "We expected good prices," he said. "We ended up with decent ones, but not as good as we had hoped."

As an example, Schramm said manifolds for water delivery to property owners were expected to cost $150,000. That part of the project came in with a bid of $225,000, 50 percent higher than estimated.

On top of that, compressed time schedules - the two-year project would have taken up to 10 years under normal conditions - usually result in higher costs, said Schramm.

To make things worse, individual contractors also have reporting requirements under stimulus funded projects and those costs are passed on in the bids, he added.

The first phase of the two-year project is nearly finished. It encompassed 3,200 acres of laterals that were enclosed north of Granger, east of Sunnyside, between Grandview and Prosser and near Whitstran.

It had an estimated budget of $4 million but came in with a total cost of $6 million.

Based on the scale of next winter's project, nearly four times larger to enclose 11,000 acres of laterals in and around Grandview, Schramm said costs for that could come in anywhere from $8 million to $13 million over initial estimates.

The Sunnyside Division knows the Grandview portion next year will be more expensive than this winter's project, but it will likely be considerably higher than they expected.

Enclosing the Grandview laterals is more difficult, says Schramm, because the division will have to work inside the Grandview city limits.

In addition, that part of the lateral system is wider than others, seven miles from the canal to the end of the longest lateral.

"The further you have to pipe away from the canal the more expense is involved," Schramm said.

The Sunnyside Division is appealing to the state and federal governments in hopes of receiving more money to cover the higher costs.

"We've had quite a bit of talk with the federal government and the issue for them is how many funds are left from the stimulus package," Schramm said.

He says the only options for the division are to "get more money and finish it or do less work."

If the state and federal government don't come up with more funds, Schramm said the division will be have to do less work on the stimulus-funded project next year.

"Obviously we'd prefer to finish the work," Schramm said.

- John Fannin can be reached at 837-4500 or at


Why enclosed laterals?

No doubt, $32.9 million, and likely much more, is a lot to spend on enclosing a portion of the laterals in the Sunnyside Division.

The Sunnyside Division's goal is to enclose all of the laterals in its system over a period of about 15 years. Half of the laterals will be enclosed after a sped up process this winter and next due to stimulus money.

So why enclose?

"It's an efficient way of delivering water," says Don Schramm, SVID's assistant manager of engineering. "We're going from an open system with weir boxes to a closed one with flow boxes."

The first to benefit will be irrigators north of Granger, east of Sunnyside, between Grandview and Prosser and near Whitstran.

Laterals in those areas were enclosed this winter. When the water starts flowing by April 1, Schramm said they will see a more stable water supply and some may see increased water pressure. That means less horsepower needed to irrigate with the water.

Ironically, those who will benefit most from the enclosed laterals will be those on the tail end of the lateral system.

"Under the old system they either had too much water or not enough," Schramm said. "Now they may be in the best position to have the most pressure."

Water coming out of the Sunnyside Division should also be cleaner thanks to the new system, Schramm said irrigators will need to use a finer filter, though.

Schramm says enclosed laterals are also a plus for those not yet on the new system.

"Everybody else benefits indirectly because it helps be good stewards of our water resources," he said.


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