Guest column: Watershed plan needs public involvement

Bend Bulletin Guest Column

Craig Horrell, Central Oregon Irrigation District Manager

Published July 6, 2017 


As Central Oregon continues to attract new residents and visitors, it’s more important than ever to seek out innovative ways to ensure we can meet this demand and enhance our environment. The river provides water for a diverse set of community needs from farmers and ranchers who grow our food to fish and wildlife habitat and for recreational users and anglers. The Deschutes River is the lifeblood of Central Oregon, and its health and vitality for the current generation as well as for future generations is the responsibility of all who live and visit this special place.

We have a rare opportunity to make a long-term, positive environmental impact that will protect our river, improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. All the while ensuring the Deschutes meets the diverse needs of the community.

At stake is funding from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. To access these dollars for the benefit of the Deschutes River, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control is working in conjunction with NRCS, and with planning assistance from Farmers Conservation Alliance, to complete watershed plans that would eventually cover all eight districts as part of a wider effort called the Central Oregon Irrigation Efficiency Improvement Project. These funds will modernize our canal system.

Our proposed Irrigation Modernization Project would convert open irrigation canals to piped and pressurized systems with the aim of:

• Enhancing aquatic and riparian habitat for sensitive aquatic and riparian species through increased stream flow in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.

• Reducing risks to public safety from open irrigation canals.

• Supporting and maintaining existing agricultural land uses through enhanced water supply reliability.

• Providing financial stability to the irrigation districts through reduced operation and maintenance costs and opportunities to add hydroelectric generation facilities to district infrastructure.

The modernization project is expected to result in numerous environmental benefits, which is why it has widespread support among conservation groups, government agencies and irrigation end-users.

Currently, water for the irrigation districts is diverted from the Deschutes River, which experiences low flows that diminish water and habitat quality from Crane Prairie Reservoir to Lake Billy Chinook.

The modernization project will reduce canal seepage by up to 156 cubic feet per second, and will employ Oregon’s Conserved Water Program to permanently keep more water instream. This will enhance stream flow in the Deschutes River, lowering water temperatures and increasing habitat for sensitive fish and other aquatic species. Other project benefits include lower energy use for our irrigation users, which will reduce pumping for an estimated savings of 13,316 megawatt hours per year, and will lower CO2 emissions by 6,325 tons per year. As part of our planning effort, the Tumalo, Swalley, and Central Oregon irrigation districts will each host a public open house to discuss proposed irrigation system improvements and to collect public input. To attend, join us at one of the following meetings:

• Tumalo Irrigation District Public Open House: 5:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, Tumalo Community Church, Meeting Room, 64671 Bruce Ave.

• Swalley Irrigation District Public Open House: 6:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Tumalo Community Church, Meeting Room, 64671 Bruce Ave.

• Central Oregon Irrigation District Open House: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Monday, Redmond Grange, 707 SW Kalama Ave.

Public participation is essential to the watershed planning and environmental review process. It helps us make informed decisions that consider the full range of environmental effects and alternative solutions. Please join us as we work to create an innovative watershed plan that will benefit the Deschutes River and its users now and for generations to come. Or, learn more at

— Craig Horrell is the manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District.




Shon RaeGuest column: Watershed plan needs public involvement
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Change coming to Central Oregon irrigation districts

Bend Bulletin Published June 26, 2017

Stephen Hamway


Three districts will hold public meetings in July


In July, three of Central Oregon’s irrigation districts will take a step toward modernization to develop new plans aimed at helping farmers conserve water and energy.

The Tumalo, Swalley and Central Oregon irrigation districts, three of the eight irrigation districts in the region that comprise the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, will host public meetings, each of which are focused on watershed planning within the individual district.

The board is working with the National Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to develop and fund watershed plans with the help of local farmers and the Farmers Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit based in Hood River.

“It’s water in the West, so there are a lot of groups involved,” said Tom Makowski, the National Resources Conservation Service’s assistant state conservationist for watershed resources and planning.

Makowski said the plans vary depending on the needs of each district, with each located in different portions of the Deschutes Basin. The issues range from the impact of additional pipes on residential development to their impact on Oregon spotted frog populations.

The meetings represent the first public step toward expensive system enhancement projects on each of the three systems. Makowski said the conservation service helps irrigation districts shoulder some of the design and development costs, typically around 30 to 50 percent, and provides engineers to help examine the irrigation systems.

Following the meetings and subsequent public comment period, the organizations will develop a draft watershed plan for each irrigation district. Once that process is complete, members of the public will have another opportunity to review those plans, Makowski said.

The Tumalo Irrigation District will host its public meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 6 at the Tumalo Community Church’s meeting room, at 64671 Bruce Ave. in Bend, according to the news release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Swalley Irrigation District’s meeting will be held the same evening an hour later in the same location. COID’s meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. July 10 at the Redmond Grange, according to the release.

In addition to submitting formal comments during the meetings, members of the public can provide written comments by mail or email for two weeks after each meeting.


Shon RaeChange coming to Central Oregon irrigation districts
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Collaborative Deschutes River education and exploration tour held June 10



A coalition of Deschutes River stakeholders, including High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, Deschutes Basin Board of Control, and the Coalition for the Deschutes, hosted an all-day field trip on Saturday, June 10, aimed at educating the community about the critical, and often intricate, role of the Upper Deschutes River in Central Oregon.

The “Spring to Sprouts: River to Farm Field Trip” began with a visit to the Deschutes River at La Pine State Park, downstream from Wickiup Reservoir of the Deschutes River’s headwaters at Little Lava Lake. The tour continued to the North Canal Dam in Bend, where water is diverted for agriculture, and will conclude at two farms in Jefferson County, which rely on the Deschutes River for irrigation. Participants at each stop gained insight into the river’s remarkable region-wide impact and learn about the collaborative efforts underway to create long-term sustainable solutions for habitat, agriculture and recreation. 

“We are thrilled to be part of a coalition that is working together to manage our region’s water responsibly,” said Gail Snyder executive director for Coalition for the Deschutes. “Spring to Sprouts is a unique opportunity for the public to see first-hand the river’s impact on our food supply, and to learn about conservation efforts to protect and restore the natural habitat while meeting the water needs of our community.”


About the DBBC

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control represents eight irrigation districts in Oregon’s Deschutes Basin. The districts supply water throughout the Deschutes Basin to 8,700 patrons across 155,662 acres. The districts work in partnership with conservation groups and local, state and federal agencies to increase instream flows in rivers and creeks, while improving fisheries passage and ecologically important habitat. Since 2000, the districts have increased instream flows by nearly 80,000 acre-feet in the Deschutes River, Little Deschutes River, Ochoco Creek, Whychus Creek, Tumalo Creek and Crescent Creek, benefitting salmon, steelhead, bull trout, Oregon spotted frog and other species. For more information on the irrigation districts and their conservation efforts, visit 


About the Coalition for the Deschutes 

The mission of the Coalition for the Deschutes is to work for the restoration and protection of the Deschutes River and its watershed through education and advocacy so that fish and wildlife can thrive and future generations can enjoy and benefit from a healthy river and watershed.


About the HDFFA: 

High Desert Food and Farm Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit serving Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties. The mission is to support a community-based food system in Central Oregon to increase access to fresh healthy food, support sustainable farm land use and foster relationships among farmers and consumers. 





T & H Farm, Culver Oregon

Springs to Sprouts Tour

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Fish passage in place at Bend’s North Unit Dam

Dedication on June 14 marks completion of North Canal Fish Dam Passage on the Deschutes

Partnership between irrigation districts, ODFW and Upper Deschutes Watershed Council expected to benefit native redband trout

Shon RaeFish passage in place at Bend’s North Unit Dam
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