Digging rodents threaten canal safety in Central Oregon

Larry Roofener, operations manager for the Central Oregon Irrigation District, talks about how animals burrowing into canals can cause breaching risks while touring the Pilot Butte Canal in Redmond on Monday.

Ground squirrels, rock chucks keep irrigation managers busy

By Aubrey Wieber, The Bulletin

Published Apr 11, 2017

Drive along the Pilot Butte Canal in Redmond in the spring and you’ll see ground squirrels scurry frantically back and forth across the road. Chubby rock chucks sprint from rock to rock.

Both types of rodents pop up, run around and then disappear into burrows. The underground dens and tunnels provide protection from predators and the elements, but they also risk causing millions of dollars in damage to urban developments.

Rodents living along canals pose a huge threat, irrigation district officials say. Their tunnels can cause a breach of the canal, sending surging water through neighborhoods and other urban developments. As a result, keeping tabs on the furry critters and the integrity of the canal is a full-time job for eight “ditch riders” employed by the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Larry Roofner, operations manager for COID, drove along a portion of the canal sitting just above the soon-to-be Triple Ridge housing development Monday. This is one of the higher-risk areas and is monitored daily.

“We have concern there,” Roofner said. “It carries about 300 cubic feet of water (per second). If that were to breach, there could be damage to what was previously irrigated land but is now a new subdivision and Ridgeview (High) School.”

To try and prevent a breach, ditch riders keep high-powered pellet guns in their vehicles and will shoot rodents when possible. In addition, Roofner said the district contracts with exterminators to kill burrowers, usually through trapping, though he said they can use whatever means they deem necessary.

The district is tasked with maintaining roughly 450 miles of canals throughout the region, and rodent abatement is a part of that. However, not all see it that way.

Oakley Taylor, 61, lives just outside city limits to the southeast of Bend. Last week, she was told by a neighbor that the district was shooting river otters in the canal near her house with a rifle. It turned out to be muskrats being shot with a pellet gun, but nonetheless Taylor was upset. She called the district, as well as the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

“They just wanted to come out to the neighborhood and shoot these muskrats or otters or whatever,” Taylor said.

Roofner said he talked with Taylor, explaining that his employees were not killing the animals for sport — as well as the devastation a breach could cause.

Taylor said she appreciated the conversation but thinks the district should make more of an effort to inform people living near the canals of the abatement and doesn’t see why the rodents need to be killed.

“It’s sad, and I guess that is going to be more of the clash between animals and humans, and that isn’t going to go away,” she said.

Taylor is right. When the district’s two canals were first built, the areas surrounding them were far more rural. But now in many places, such as Triple Ridge, they sit above residential areas, and a breach can cause serious damage to hundreds of homes. And the rodents can be ruthless; Roofner recalled digging up a area to find ground squirrels had “honey-combed” the earth on the edge of the canal.

But a more wildlife-friendly solution appears to be on its way. ShanRae Hawkins, spokesperson for the district, said it is working toward piping irrigation water rather than sending it down in open ditches. Hawkins said so far the district is in the engineering planning phase, and there is no timeline for piping. It would be a more efficient way to transport water and would also stop rodents from burrowing into the water supply, which becomes more important as urban density around the canals increases, as it has around Reed Market Road in Bend. A breach in that area, where the water flows at 500 cfs, would be devastating, Roofner said.

“We would have water running down Third Street,” he said.


Shon RaeDigging rodents threaten canal safety in Central Oregon
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Suitable snow pack?

Central Oregonian I Tuesday, 07 February 2017 | Written by Jason Chaney Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Russ Rhoden (left) and employees Ryan Middaugh (center) and Justin McKinney check snow depth near Walton Lake and weigh the snow to determine its water content. Three major snow storms in Prineville have not translated to a significant year-over-year change in mountain snow pack, but snow depth still exceeds the 30-year average. In late December, when Ochoco Irrigation District personnel went to measure the local snowpack, they found it was pretty similar to last year. Of course, at that point in time, the area had only experienced one major snowstorm, and two more would hit in early January that would assuredly result in a lot more snow in the mountains than the previous year. At least it would be easy to assume such a result, but as it turns out, the snowpack is still comparable to last year at this time. “People might be surprised a little bit because we have all of this snow on the valley floor,” said Russ Rhoden, Ochoco Irrigation District manager. Last week, OID staff members conducted studies at the Ochoco Meadows SNOTEL site and snow course near Walton Lake as well as SNOTEL sites and snow courses at Marks Creek and Derr Meadows near Mitchell. The snow pack at the Marks Creek site increased the most from February 2016 (16 inches) to February 2017 (23.5 inches). The average water content also increased from 5.4 inches in 2016 to 6.6 inches in 2017. Ochoco Meadows saw a slight increase from 2016 to 2017. OID recorded a snow depth of 40 inches in 2016 and 43 inches in 2017. The water content likewise went up slightly from 13 inches in 2016 to 13.5 inches in 2017. But at Derr Meadows, the snow depth was 6 inches less this year versus last. In February 2016, OID measured 54 inches of snow depth, but in 2017 it was only 46 inches. The water content followed suit, registering 16.5 inches in 2016 compared to 14.5 inches this year. Although the significant snowfall in town has not translated to a huge increase in mountain snow pack, Rhoden stressed that the numbers look good for the upcoming irrigation season. “It is still good,” he said, pointing out that the snow pack for each of the past two years has exceeded the 30-year average for the area. “All of this low elevation snow is obviously going to help conditions.” Like the snow pack numbers, local reservoir levels are comparable to last year as well. Prineville Reservoir is currently has 67,372 acre-feet of water compared to 75,981 at this time last year. Ochoco Reservoir, by contrast, has more water this year (21,435 acre-feet) than one year ago (19,045). Perhaps the biggest difference between this winter and last is the temperatures and their impact on the mountain snow. “This time last year, our rivers were starting to actually pick up. Our runoff was starting to come out earlier,” Rhoden said. “I think that has been the case for the last several years.” This year, the lower temperatures overall have resulted in a slower melt, which bodes well for water availability through the growing season. “What we hope for is the snow pack coming out slow,” Rhoden said. “We don’t need any rapid snow melt.”
Shon RaeSuitable snow pack?
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Deschutes River Settlement: An Uneasy Truce

Source Weekly OPINION » EDITORIAL January 11, 2017 In terms of water, it’s going to be a good year. Just look outside. According to the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service, all basins in Oregon have normal to above-normal snowpack, with the Deschutes and Crooked River basin at 126 percent of the median. “That was not the case last year, when we observed rapid, record-breaking snowpack melt-out and runoff,”remarked Scott Oviatt, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) snow survey supervisory hydrologist on Jan. 9. This year, the parties involved in the Spotted Frog lawsuit have settled the suit aimed at restoring a steady flow to the Deschutes River, thereby ensuring at least 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) of minimum flow year-round. It looks like the spring and summer will be rosy; farmers will have water for irrigation and native species will have a fighting chance of survival. In short, there seems to be an uneasy truce between the irrigation districts, the farmers and environmentalists target a year when there’s the promise of abundant moisture gracing our dry high desert, it’s easier to settle into that truce—but it’s not going to last. One thing that’s sure to come up: the timeline necessary for restoring the health of the river beyond the 100cfs mandated by the settlement. The current Basin Study underway in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation—a $1.5 million study aimed at providing a road map for the water needs of all—is set to be complete late this year. Until that’s done, the local irrigation districts are biding their time. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the clock is ticking. What’s interesting—and what seems to have changed recently—is that some local environmental groups now seem resigned to the notion that piping our irrigation channels is necessary. Piping is intended to keep water from “leaking” out, and to increase water pressure to make delivering water more efficient. That’s not without its drawbacks and aesthetic challenges, but by and large, it seems to be a tentative way forward. Beyond the current agreement, all the parties will need to compromise.While it’s too soon to know the results of the Basin Study—and the irrigation districts won’t say so yet—farmers will need to reduce on-farm water waste. The irrigation districts will need to convince the public that the huge price tag for piping is worth paying for, and convince us that piping will ultimately mean more water left in the river, beyond the 100cfs. And while removing dams may be the ultimate goal for environmentalists, the fact that yet another power producer continues to seek license for another hydroelectric power plant at Wickiup Dam belies the fact that removing dams on the Deschutes is going to be a long, uphill and perhaps fruitless endeavor. Readers often ask what they can do to understand this complicated issue. Educate yourself as much as possible about the need for a healthy river. Go to the info sessions offered by the Coalition for the Deschutes and others. Talk to a farmer about water. Conserve water where you can, even amid abundant snowpack. And keep an open mind when it comes time to pay for piping. If it ultimately means more water left in the Deschutes—and we hope the irrigation districts will be willing to follow through on that—then it’s going to be good for us all.
Shon RaeDeschutes River Settlement: An Uneasy Truce
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Spotlight: The Story of Eberhard’s Dairy

Source Weekly by Brian Jennings January 03, 2017 If the economic downturn at Boeing in Seattle in the early 1960s hadn’t occurred, Redmond’s Eberhard Dairy may not even exist today. Bob Eberhard was selling Dictaphones in Puget Sound and was concerned he wouldn’t weather the downturn. That was the catalyst for a young Eberhard to return home in August of 1964 to join the family business processing butter and dried milk products. Much has changed since then. When he joined the family business, Bob, who majored in business at Oregon State, said he wanted to expand. “What I wanted to do was become a full line processor of dairy products,” he now says. It only took moments for his father to agree. Cottage cheese was the first new product introduction and there have been numerous since. To accommodate the manufacture of new products, the family began expanding the original creamery building in the fall of 1964. Cottage cheese hit consumer shelves in May 1965, with fresh milk and ice cream coming in January 1967. Growing Eberhard’s Dairy In 1969, Eberhard purchased a competing dairy in Bend, doubling production. “It was a big nut for us to crack,” he said. Then, on Jan. 1, 1981, Eberhard purchased Kilgore’s Dairy in Redmond. Timing wasn’t perfect with the economy entering another tailspin. “Once again, this was an even bigger nut for us to crack.” Production doubled. Sales doubled. Accounts receivable and payable also doubled. “We knew we were on the hot seat. We had to make a lot of changes such as combining routes to generate income to make those payments.” After absorbing Kilgore’s, Eberhard continued to manufacture products under two brand labels. But, by 1983, the company decided to join the Quality Checked Dairy Products Association and it began processing its products as “Eberhard’s Quality Checked.” The new association provided the company with a competitive advantage in packaging and branding. Where the Milk Originates (besides the cow) Milk comes from two dairies in Central Oregon, sending tanker trucks to the producing dairies to collect it. Other sources include the Oregon Milk Marketing Federation which contracts with large dairy producers in Southwest Washington. At midnight, tanker trucks are loaded and arrive at Eberhard’s by 5 a.m. The milk is processed that day, keeping bacteria counts at a minimum. Eberhard is proud to feature products with no added growth hormones. “My favorite milk is one percent,” Eberhard says. “Cottage cheese is a favorite of mine. I’ve eaten butter all my life and ice cream.” He says you can manufacture as many flavors of ice cream as you want, but vanilla will still be 35 percent of sales. Bob guided the Source Weekly through the dairy’s processing plant located on Evergreen Street—finishing the tour by taking us into his large freezer jammed with ice cream ready for shipment—a 70 x 70-foot room he described as “the largest and coldest spot in Central Oregon.” Eberhard’s Future Eberhard is optimistic about the company’s future. “We’re really a very small dairy processing plant and the last dairy processing plant east of the Cascade Mountains.” Eberhard says growth is critical to survival. “If you’re not getting larger, then your cost of production becomes too high and you can’t be competitive.” He continued, “Our goal has been to always grow faster than the population.” At supermarkets, roughly 10 percent of all sales are dairy product related. “If supermarket sales are going up, our sales are going up accordingly. Another way we will grow is to expand our borders through distributors or wholesalers.” Distribution centers offer him a cheaper way of transporting products to many locations. Eberhard also has marketing agreements with stores such as Ray’s supermarkets and Haggen’s, supplying them with customized products. And the company supplies dry curd cottage cheese to Chez Gourmet in Portland to make vegetarian burgers. “There is still opportunity for us to expand,” he says.
Shon RaeSpotlight: The Story of Eberhard’s Dairy
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Plans for hydroelectric project keep churning

Application processes continue for proposal at Wickiup Dam By Hilary Corrigan, The Bulletin Published Dec 30, 2016 at 12:15AM Longstanding plans to add a small hydroelectric project at Wickiup Dam are still around — but a little uncertain. In 2011, Wickiup Hydro Group LLC — a subsidiary of Idaho firm Symbiotics LLC — sought a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build an approximately 7 megawatt facility at the Bureau of Reclamation dam outside of Bend. A megawatt equals 1 million watts, about enough electricity for 750 homes. Wickiup Dam and reservoir were built as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Deschutes Irrigation Project in 1949. The irrigation project also includes Crane Prairie and Haystack reservoirs. Wickiup Reservoir provides irrigation storage for North Unit Irrigation District. The proposed “run-of-reservoir” hydroelectric project would operate when water flows fall within certain ranges, without changing reservoir operation, according to the application. The project could cost about $18.4 million. Its electrical energy would be marketed to local electric utilities serving Central Oregon. Among other facilities, plans call for a 50-by-50 foot powerhouse to hold the turbine generator units and control equipment — a connection to a nearby existing transmission line that extends to the Bonneville Power Administration’s existing Pringle Falls substation. North Unit Irrigation District had agreed not to pursue its own project at the site and has an agreement with Wickiup Hydro Group to be paid about 5 percent of gross revenue from the project’s electricity sales each year. The money would help fund the district’s operating costs and support maintenance and conservation projects such as installing piping and lining in irrigation ditches and canals, according to Mike Britton, the district’s general manager. Britton said he has heard “nothing at all” from the developer in at least a year. “It’d be nice if they would either do something or get out of the way completely,” Britton said. “They’ve been pretty much an absentee partner for quite some time.” According to materials filed at FERC, the firm now handling the application is Northwest Power Services Inc. That firm’s filings have a Wasilla, Alaska, post office box listing. But its president, Brent Smith, was also part of Symbiotics. Smith could not be reached for comment. The proposed project appears to be continuing its application process at federal and state agencies. Bridget Moran, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bend office, said that FERC has requested an Endangered Species Act consultation from her agency on the project — a signal to her that both FERC and the project proponent are serious about moving forward with the proposal. A main issue for her agency’s review involves the potential for an increased number of non-native fish species to get through the dam, posing a possible threat of greater predation farther downstream of the Oregon spotted frog, a protected animal. A recent settlement agreement reached in a separate legal proceeding on the frog has resulted in changes to flows, storage and release operations — prompting a need for the service to do a little more review of the hydroelectric proposal. The review by Moran’s agency will take place in the new year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service has set various conditions for the project, including studies and a monitoring plan meant to evaluate impacts to fish populations and how different fish species interact. Those conditions have prompted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to call for an updated application for a water quality certification that the project needs. The department expects to get that updated application soon, according to Chris Stine, a hydroelectric specialist at DEQ. “At this point, we are asking for a revised application that accurately reflects the project,” Stine said, adding that he recently received a phone message from the applicant saying that it would be submitted. The deadline is Jan. 12, then DEQ has a year to issue a decision either approving or denying the required certification.  
Shon RaePlans for hydroelectric project keep churning
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Oregon spotted frog settlement draws questions, discussion

Agreement in court case prompts meeting for questions and answers

By Hilary Corrigan, The Bulletin Published Nov 10, 2016 at 12:19AM Central Oregon farmers listened Wednesday night to details of a recent settlement on the Oregon spotted frog and sought answers on future water levels, frog populations, ways to improve the animal’s habitat and whether their own operations could get protection. The Deschutes Basin Board of Control — a coalition of several area irrigation districts — hosted the meeting at Redmond High School, drawing about 90 people. Irrigation district patrons, including farmers and those with livestock, questioned whether the settlement’s changes in Deschutes River water levels might harm their growing; whether the frog’s population really is too low; whether irrigation and dam operations really harm the animal’s habitat; whether other influences like predators may harm the frog more; and whether the changes meant to mitigate impacts to the frog might harm farming in the region. “Who’s watching out for us?” an audience member asked. Water levels change every fall and spring for irrigation needs. Reduced flows from Wickiup Dam in the fall store water through the winter for the next year’s irrigation season. But river advocates have long argued that the switch — sometimes a drop to around 30 cfs after running at 2,000 cfs through the summer, for instance, then back up again in the spring — helps erode the waterway and strand fish, among other problems. Recent lawsuits brought by conservation groups argued that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had violated the Endangered Species Act partly by failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effect of dam operations on the Oregon spotted frog, a protected animal. A settlement late last month among federal, environmental and irrigation organizations set various provisions. For instance, the irrigation districts must maintain a minimum water level of 100 cubic feet per second from mid-September 2016 through March 2017 for winter flows in the Upper Deschutes River. And water levels at Crane Prairie Reservoir cannot drop below 35,000 acre feet at any time. The Center for Biological Diversity, WaterWatch of Oregon, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit and Tumalo irrigation districts signed on to the agreement. The measures in the settlement serve as an interim step. The districts expect a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion and authorization in July 2016 that would allow for a legal “take” — death or harm to the frog or its habitat due to dam operations — of a certain number of frogs. That authorization would expire in summer 2019, when the districts aim to have in place a long-term plan on habitat conservation, with set provisions. “We can’t keep doing things like we’ve always done them,” David Filippi, an attorney representing DBBC, told the crowd. Audience members voiced concern over whether they would get enough water and at the right times for their growing seasons. They also wondered whether frog management steps would mirror those meant to help the spotted owl years ago in Pacific Northwest forests, arguing that area farming could decline like the timber industry at that time. Others voiced support for projects to install pipes in irrigation canals to save water, and of making the river and habitat healthy, calling that outcome the ultimate goal. They also suggested relocating the frog, starting a captive breeding effort or creating habitat for the animal. But such efforts can grow very costly and require permanent maintenance and supervision, said Marty Vaughn, a wildlife biologist for DBBC. Vaughn described the ongoing effort to craft a longer-term habitat conservation plan as a complicated process that will take more time. But it will provide durable, long-lasting provisions and a level of certainty that will help all parties involved, he said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor Bridget Moran noted that the frog got listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because it had declined, a finding determined through a process that reviewed population and distribution data for the animal and linked the decline to habitat loss.
Oregon spotted frog settlement draws questions, discussion
Shon RaeOregon spotted frog settlement draws questions, discussion
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Settlement Agreement Reached in Spotted Frog Lawsuit  Program: Farm and Ranch Report Date: November 04, 2016

Five central Oregon irrigation districts, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and two environmental groups submitted to Judge Ann Aiken last week a settlement agreement intended to resolve two lawsuits related to the Oregon spotted frog. The settlement represents a science-based effort to improve Oregon spotted frog habitat in the Deschutes Basin, avoid adverse impacts to other species, and protect the rights and livelihoods of central Oregon communities, family farmers, and ranchers. Central Oregon Irrigation District General Manager Craig Horrell says this is good news. Horrell: “We’re happy with the settlement in that it allows us to move forward in a positive way for our farmers and ranchers.” Under the settlement agreement, the irrigation districts would modify the operations of the reservoirs, with the goal of improving habitat for Oregon spotted frogs in and downstream from the reservoirs. Harrell continues Horrell: “We now have some concrete stop gaps that we are working against to ensure that we can plan for the farmers’ full season. We’re also working hard to make sure that farmers get full deliveries — that is always based on how well our water season is based on snowpack and moisture — but what we are confident of is that the farmers will not be shut off. It does have the potential for some impacts if we don’t get water; but our hope is that we can manage for what we know. There are knowns now that we can manage for. So the hope is that farmers are protected moving forward.”  
Shon RaeSettlement Agreement Reached in Spotted Frog Lawsuit
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