Public/Private Partnerships

What is a Public-Private Partnership?

Formally defined, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is a contractual arrangement between a public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector entity. Through this agreement, the skills and assets of each sector (public and private) are shared in delivering a service or facility for the use of the general public. In addition to the sharing of resources, each party shares in the risks and rewards potential in the delivery of the service and/or facility.

--The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships


A Model for the Columbia Basin Project

The Columbia Basin Project’s operation and maintenance as well as its continued development are modeled after PPPs.  While the formal definition may not always apply, a public-private relationship is clearly present.


The Players and Their Roles

Federal Government: 

  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns the Columbia Basin Project infrastructure including:
    • 330 miles of main canals
    • 1,990 miles of smaller canals
    • 3,500 miles of drains and wasteways
    • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation holds a water right certificate dated May 1938 to store 6.4 MAF of water in the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam  

State of Washington:

  • Under State law, diversion of water from the Columbia River at Grand Coulee Dam, for irrigation, requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to apply for a secondary use permit issued by the Washington Department of Ecology
  • Existing Columbia Basin Project water deliveries are made from water right certificates and permits totaling over 3.1 MAF, obtained through the secondary permitting process

Irrigation Districts:

  • Water deliveries to farms in the Project area are made by one of three Irrigation Districts on the basis of repayment contracts between individual land owners and the Irrigation District.
  •  Each Irrigation District is a subdivision of the State government, self-governed by a Board of Directors. 
  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation contracts with the three Irrigation Districts to operate and maintain most Project facilities.


  • Landowners within the Columbia Basin Project area make up the governing Board of each Irrigation District in the Project.
  • The Irrigation District Directors have statutory authority to make decisions on development, water delivery, payment for, and distribution of new water supplies as they become available.
  • Feedback from landowners is requested by the Irrigation Districts regarding decisions like the implementation of the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program


  • Non-governmental organizations / nonprofit organizations like the Columbia Basin Development League represent landowner interests in advocacy efforts
  • The Columbia Basin Development League has the ability to lobby at State and Federal levels from a uniquely private perspective
  • The Columbia Basin Development League is an information conduit between all the players in this Public-Private Partnership model