Editorial: Pipe around canal stretch declared historic

Bend Bulletin 

Published June 8, 2018

 

A stretch of the Pilot Butte Canal near Juniper Ridge will be getting more protection than some nearby homeowners ever wanted. Central Oregon Irrigation District plans to pipe around it.

Water will be conserved on a leaky stretch of canal. COID will be able to build more pressure for its hydropower downstream. And the canal declared historic in 2016 will be preserved from water damage.

It’s a win for the river and water conservation, but not so much for the nearby homeowners.

Homeowners with property along the stretch of canal nominated it for historic status. One reason was to block COID’s plans to pipe the 1.5 mile-section.

Although it’s basically a rocky ditch, the canal becomes a roiling stream during irrigation season. When the water is flowing, it’s like having a Tumalo Creek in the backyard.

The canal is unquestionably a part of Central Oregon’s history. Irrigation opened up the region to farming and more growth. Construction began on the canal in 1903 and it was completed in 1905. Marks are visible on the basalt where workers carved and blasted out the canal.

But the purpose of the canal was never to provide a water feature. It was to move water from the Deschutes River to farmers. Open, unlined canals lose about half their water. COID has said that piping this particular 1.5 mile-stretch would save 7.95 cubic feet per second of water, when the canal was being used. One cubic foot of water is more than 7 gallons. So piping would mean more water could stay in the river, and the water taken from the river would move efficiently to its destination.

COID’s new capital improvement plan includes piping around the historic stretch. The alternate route may go along 18th Street in public right of way.

There are many more things that must happen first. There must be permits. The money has to all line up. COID targets the piping to begin in 2020. And there may well be challenges by homeowners who won the battle to declare the canal stretch historic. But they are correctly losing the war to pipe the water.

 

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Editorial: Canal piping pays off for all

Bend Bulletin 

Published June 6, 2018 at 03:23PM

 

The Three Sisters Irrigation District will, by 2020, accomplish something similar districts in the region can only dream about. It will have piped every inch of its 64-mile delivery system and, in the process, provided something good to just about everyone.

Whychus Creek may be the biggest winner of all. TSID draws its water from Whychus Creek, and before piping began the creek ran dry in the summer.

Now, 20 years into the piping project, it has 30 cubic feet per second of water year-round, water that must be left in the creek no matter what. That number, by the way, amounts to more than 13,000 gallons per minute. By 2020, it will have almost 35 cubic feet per second.

Fish, salmon and steelhead will be winners, too. They disappeared from Whychus Creek in about 1895, says Marc Thalacker, manager of TSID, four years after the oldest irrigation district in Deschutes County was created. He expects them back within a few years of the piping project’s completion.

The district’s 193 farms win, as well. While much of the water piping saves is being put back into the creek, farmers get more water, as well, about 25 percent more. More water can mean better farming, and that translates into more money to spend on farm equipment and other items in the community.

Finally, the district will benefit. Three hydro projects generating a total of about 4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity that will be purchased by electric utilities won’t pay the $50 million estimated tab for the full project, but the money will certainly help the effort.

Central Oregon owes a major chunk of its Euro-American presence to TSID and other irrigation districts formed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Carey Act of 1894, adopted by the state of Oregon in 1901, turned millions of acres of federal land over to the citizens of 10 western states for settlement. A key part of that settlement was irrigated farming, and the irrigation districts were formed to provide the water.

Irrigation still is key to agriculture in Central Oregon, but as the TSID piping project makes clear, agriculture can survive alongside native fish and other animals if it’s done right. Doing it right generally means piping.

 

 

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Editorial: Don’t let Deschutes River problems wind up in lawsuits

 

Bend Bulletin Editorial

Published March 2, 2018

 

The Deschutes River is such a beauty it can be easy to forget it has serious problems. A leading one is that water in the river basin is not in the right place at the right time for people, farming and wildlife.

That problem became more acute when the Oregon spotted frog was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. There has already been one lawsuit over the frog. If the frog is not protected, lawsuits will drive the solutions. While that may be good for the frog, it will almost certainly have damaging repercussions throughout the basin.

Farmers in Jefferson County are particularly vulnerable. They could no longer have a reliable water source to farm. The farmers of the North Unit Irrigation District have been the leaders in the basin in implementing innovative irrigation practices to conserve water. But that doesn’t matter. They generally hold the most junior water rights. They would be among the first in line to lose.

Meeting the water supply needs of the basin doesn’t have to come to that. The U.S. Reclamation Bureau and the state Water Resources Department have committed some $1.5 million to identify solutions.

The study doesn’t set out to pick solutions. It aims to identify options, evaluate their effectiveness and cost. The options are basically piping, enabling leasing and selling of water rights and creating flexibility in storage.

The goal in most years is to cover a shortfall of water that is not where it needs to be of about 130,000 acre feet. Dry years can be triple that. An acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre in a foot of water. It’s about 326,000 gallons.

Piping, leasing and selling can deliver that 130,000 acre feet and more. Piping helps make the leasing and selling easier. It comes with a higher price tag — the average for piping is about $5,000 per acre foot. Leasing and selling average about $400 per acre foot. Storage changes help facilitate more flexibility in the system.

Crunch some numbers and the costs would be millions upon millions. Where would it come from? That is unanswered.

If you want to be involved in the solution or a solution that isn’t dictated in the courts, check out the preliminary findings of the study’s working group. It will be holding open houses in Bend, Sunriver and Madras next week. More information is available by doing a web search for the Upper Deschutes Basin Study or check out the Deschutes River Conservancy’s website event page.

 

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