Federal grant to help irrigation districts share water

Study designed to help even shortfalls, surpluses in Deschutes Basin

Bend Bulletin / Stephen Hamway

October 16, 2017


Thanks to aging infrastructure, complicated legal snags and other factors, some of the irrigation districts operating within the Deschutes Basin are falling short of water. However, a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation should provide a partial solution.

In September, Central Oregon Irrigation District received a $400,000 grant from the bureau, designed to help irrigation districts set up a comprehensive approach to sharing and loaning water. The Central Oregon Irrigation District project was one of nine chosen in September by the Bureau of Reclamation, which provided a total of $2.1 million.

Kate Fitzpatrick, program director for the Deschutes River Conservancy, said the $400,000 grant, which will be matched by the district, would go toward a study that will provide ways to share water between districts legally and effectively, improving on a system that leaves some districts in the basin with a water surplus, and some with significant shortfalls.

“All of the districts are highly motivated to solve this,” Fitzpatrick said.

The eight irrigation districts operating in the Deschutes Basin provide water to approximately 150,000 acres of farms, ranches, cities and school districts in Central Oregon, but their water rights are not created equal. Fitzpatrick said COID, headquartered in Redmond, has senior water rights on the Deschutes system and has plenty of water. But more junior right-holders, including North Unit Irrigation District in Madras, are feeling the strain from farmers, municipalities and other water users.

Mike Britton, general manager for North Unit Irrigation District, said the district does fine during wet years, but during dry summers, especially over the last few years, the district has had to cap water for farmers, and draw Wickiup Reservoir down to record lows.

“It’s hard to recover from those types of draw-downs,” Britton said.

In 2014, the Oregon spotted frog was listed as threated under the federal Endangered Species Act, triggering protections for the species in some of Central Oregon’s bodies of water. Fitzpatrick said the species is found in Crane Prairie Reservoir, to the southwest of Bend, and along the Deschutes River between Wickiup Reservoir and Bend, and requires specific water needs. The district draws much of its water from Wickiup, but a recent legal settlement involving the species requires the districts to meet certain flow levels on the Upper Deschutes River.

Ultimately, this means there’s a significant gap between the supply of water and the demand for it. A 2013 study cited in the application predicts a shortage of 230,000 acre-feet of water by 2050.

Fitzpatrick said the Deschutes River Conservancy is collaborating with the irrigation districts and other stakeholders on a comprehensive study examining the future of the Deschutes Basin, which will include water sharing, piping along canals and other factors. However, the study will not be complete until May 2018.

In the meantime, Fitzpatrick said that providing a way for districts to share water could go a long way toward offsetting this shortfall. One aspect of the planning process involves finding cost-effective ways to move water from irrigation districts with senior rights to those with more junior rights. Shon Rae, who handles business development for COID, estimated that the district has around 135,000 acre-feet of marketable water available, from users with a surplus as well as correctable water loss from the existing system.

While Fitzpatrick said the irrigation districts have a long history of loaning water back and forth, state and federal water laws present barriers to doing so more regularly. The study funded by the Bureau of Reclamation grant could provide a framework for doing so more regularly.

Going forward, the districts will be planning ways to involve the public in the process near the start of 2018, working with residents and water-users to find better ways to distribute water between the various districts.

“We’re a unique basin,” Fitzpatrick said.


Shon RaeFederal grant to help irrigation districts share water
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Uneven impacts seen in Oregon spotted frog settlement

Oregon spotted frog habitat is improving in some areas and seasons while degrading in others under a legal settlement in the Deschutes Basin.

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published October 4, 2017


A legal settlement intended to upgrade conditions for the Oregon spotted frog is having uneven impacts on the threatened species’ habitat, according to federal biologists.

The agreement was struck last year to resolve a lawsuit between environmental groups, irrigation districts and the federal government over the operation of several dams in the region.

While conditions for the spotted frog improved in portions of the basin during certain seasons, they were degraded in other locations and times under the deal, according to a recent “biological opinion” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We call this the push-down, pop-up system,” said Bridget Moran, field supervisor of the agency’s office in Bend, Ore.

In other words, when problems are suppressed in some areas they are aggravated in others due to the complexity of the irrigation system, which relies on water from the Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake reservoirs.

Under the settlement, the amount of water is reduced for growers in five irrigation districts to make more available to the frog, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

As reservoirs are drawn down, the water level falls below vegetation that spotted frogs rely upon for breeding and shelter from predators, said Moran.

“It’s really about whether the level of flow allows the frogs to access their habitat,” she said.

However, retaining water in one part of the system means that it’s reduced somewhere else, she said. For example, filling a reservoir requires reducing downstream river flows.

Nonetheless, the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in its biological opinion that the water regime mandated by the settlement won’t jeopardize the frog’s continued existence or destroy its habitat.

“On the balance, there is slight improvement, most notably at the Crane Prairie reservoir,” which is important because it contains a healthy population of frogs, Moran said.

Moran characterized the legal settlement as the “bridge” to a more comprehensive “habitat conservation plan,” or HCP, for the spotted frog that’s due in 2019. At that point, the current deal is expected to expire.

“It will be many different features but they all build around increasing winter flows over time,” which provides frogs with the opportunity to reach overwinter habitat, she said.

Increased flows will be supplemented with habitat restoration work aimed at returning the system’s rivers to a more natural state.

Over the 70 years of reservoir operations, heavy water flows released from reservoirs during summer have “scarred” river beds, making channels deeper, said Moran. As a result, water doesn’t reach adjacent wetland vegetation, cutting off spotted frogs from habitat.

Meanwhile, what vegetation does grow along river banks is flooded, she said. “It comes up so high, everything gets inundated.”

Habitat restoration work aims to reconnect the river flows with nearby habitat. The HCP will also include control of bull frogs, which predate on spotted frogs and compete for habitat, and treatment of reed canary grass, an invasive species.

Due to a healthy snowpack last winter, the settlement wasn’t seriously damaging to irrigators in 2017, said Ken Rieck, general manager of the Tumalo Irrigation District, a defendant in the case.

On average, the district stands to lose about half the stored water that would usually be available for irrigation due to the agreement, he said. This year, it only lost about 20 percent, but in a “bad year,” the loss could reach 80 percent.

“We really didn’t get the full effect we could have,” Rieck said.

Under the settlement, water that would normally be stored in Crescent Lake for the district’s irrigation system is being redirected into winter stream flows for the spotted frog.

Traditionally, the district lost roughly half of available irrigation water to seepage in unlined canals, Rieck said. Now, it’s installing piping to stop the leakage, allowing more water to be devoted to frog habitat without reducing irrigation supplies as sharply.

“The more pipe we put in the ground, the more of that water we’ll be able to recover,” he said. “Our goal is to be as close to 100 percent efficient in our delivery system as possible and that will be our defense.”


Shon RaeUneven impacts seen in Oregon spotted frog settlement
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Federal grant to help C.O. irrigators swap water, boost flows

Second WaterSMART grant awarded to Warm Springs

Oct 05, 2017


BEND, Ore. - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $400,000 grant to the Central Oregon Irrigation District. In partnership with the Deschutes River Conservancy, the funds will help finance the development of a WaterSMART marketing strategy, an innovative water transactions program to facilitate the trading of water between irrigation districts and boost stream flows in the Deschutes River. 


The project will build on extensive collaborative work currently underway by COID, the DRC and partners in the Upper Deschutes Basin to restore flows and provide increased water security for basin stakeholders, according to an irrigation district news release issued Thursday. 


By 2050, the Deschutes Basin has a projected supply-demand gap of 230,000 acre-feet for the area’s agricultural, environmental, and municipal needs. Additionally, the reclassification of the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act has accelerated the need to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes River. 


The development of a water marketing strategy will allow water to move between irrigation districts and to the river, increasing reliability for irrigators, improving flows and protecting future needs, those involved said.


“Our role as water managers and stewards of the Deschutes River is to ensure not only that our region’s environmental, agriculture and recreational water needs are met today, but that they are protected and sustained decades from now,” said Craig Horrell, district manager of COID. “This WaterSmart grant allows us to develop programs that allow for a more efficient movement of water between users and the river, while accelerating our existing conservation efforts.”


According to the Reclamation announcement, water marketing strategy grants are used to conduct planning activities in developing a water marketing strategy in which buyers and sellers can lease, sale or exchange their water rights. 


The aim of the WaterSMART program is to identify strategies that ensure current and future generations will have sufficient amounts of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health.


COID was one of nine projects to be funded in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The $400,000 award will cover half of the $800,000 total projected cost. 


There also was another Central Oregon WaterSMART grant, of $172,062, to Warm Springs Water and Power Enterprises. It covers half the cost of a project to develop a water marketing strategy for leasing water rights held by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation to the North Unit Irrigation District.

Officials said the tribe's off-reservation water rights in Lake Billy Chinook can provide another water supply source to the North Unit, potentially dropping deliveries from the Upper Deschutes and Crooked rivers by up to 72,000 acre-feet a year.


About Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID)

Established in 1918, Central Oregon Irrigation District “COID” is a Municipal Corporation of the State of Oregon. The District’s mission is to provide a reliable supply of water to 3,500 patrons throughout Bend, Redmond, Powell Butte and Alfalfa through its system of more than 700 miles of canals. COID delivers water to each patron so all can work, play and thrive, while at the same time ensuring the needs of future patrons can be met through conservation and more efficient delivery methods.


About the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC)

The Deschutes River Conservancy was founded in 1996 as collaborative, multi-stakeholder 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes Basin. The Board of Directors is comprised of key public and private interests including federal, state, local government, irrigation, development, hydro-power, recreation, tribes, and environment.


Shon RaeFederal grant to help C.O. irrigators swap water, boost flows
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Editorial: Central Oregon does not need another historic canal

Editorial: Central Oregon does not need another historic canal

Bend Bulletin

Published Oct. 3, 2017


Water is too precious in Central Oregon to be mismanaged. But it could be about to happen, again. A section of the Central Oregon Canal operated by Central Oregon Irrigation District could join the National Register of Historic Places. The section covers about 3½ miles between Ward Road and Gosney Road, south of U.S. Highway 20.

If it becomes historic, it would likely never be able to be piped. And irrigation pipes win the contest of water efficiency.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much water could be saved by piping that stretch. It might be anywhere from 5 cubic feet per second to about 40 cubic feet per second. Generally, piping is done because about 50 percent of the water flowing through open canals never reaches the destination. Piping can also build pressure for clean hydropower.

Irrigation canals were built historically to support agriculture. It undermines that historic goal to deny the ability to pipe a canal for efficiency. Piping a canal also can mean more water can be left in the Deschutes River to keep it healthy. That should be enough to end the debate right there.

Some people argue leaky canals are beneficial because they help recharge the aquifer. But that artificial recharge comes at the expense of more natural flows in the river and the ecosystems that depend on them, according to Kate Fitzpatrick, program director of the Deschutes River Conservancy.

Two important stretches of COID canals have already been declared historic. How many more historic stretches does Central Oregon need? One is a short stretch in Redmond. It will be primarily just a water feature. The main flow of the canal will actually be piped nearby. The second is at Brasada Ranch. Old wood structures still exist. The plan is to make both sites easily accessible to the public and set up kiosks or signs to explain the historic significance.

That’s surely enough to mark the historic significance of canals in Central Oregon. The goal should be to ensure more water is used efficiently, not to declare more old ditches as historic ditches.


Shon RaeEditorial: Central Oregon does not need another historic canal
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Outreach planned for Upper Deschutes Basin study

A study of the Upper Deschutes Basin in Oregon is examining several options for increasing water storage.

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on September 18, 2017

Federal authorities will soon be sharing preliminary findings of a water study of Oregon’s Upper Deschutes Basin with landowners and other affected parties.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and regional partners will use the input to complete their analysis of water management in the basin, whose water supply demands are eventually expected to exceed supplies by 230,000 acre-feet a year.

One component of the report, which is due in mid-2018, will examine the feasibility of expanding water storage in the region.

The possibilities being studied include raising an existing dam to expand the Haystack Reservoir south of Madras, Ore., or building a new upstream facility.

The study is also looking at creating a new “Monner” reservoir east of Madras or restoring storage in the Prineville reservoir that’s been lost to sedimentation.

Water conservation and water transfers are also being examined in the study, said Mike Relf, project manager with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest regional office.

“Storage is just one part of the basin study,” Relf said.

The goal is to lay out the benefits and challenges of potential storage options, rather than make any recommendations, he said.

“The idea is not to promote any particular idea,” Relf said.

Building or expanding water reservoirs would entail environmental studies and funding processes that would likely require decades to complete, he said. “Storage would by far be the longest-term idea out there.”

It’s worthwhile to take a closer look at storage possibility, the likelihood of actually starting construction is a long shot, said Mike Britton, general manager of the North Unit Irrigation District, which is one of the partners participating in the $1.5 million study.

Aside from bureaucratic and financial hurdles, storage projects are often unrealistic because they’d flood existing infrastructure, such as gas pipelines and power transmission lines, he said.

“Those types of obstacles are potential deal stoppers,” Britton said.

California, for example, has a long list of potential storage options that haven’t been built for decades, he said. “I doubt we’d be that much different here, unfortunately.”

The prospect of expanding the Haystack Reservoir, however, is making at least one landowner nervous.

Kenny Reed, who owns a ranch abutting the reservoir, worries an expansion would disrupt habitat for bald eagles that he’s conserving under an agreement with the federal government.

Reed has expressed his concerns to the Bureau of Reclamation, which has acknowledged there’s a conservation plan for the area.

“The entire ranch is designated as bald eagle habitat,” Reed said. “We didn’t go through a 20-year process to say it doesn’t matter anymore.”


Shon RaeOutreach planned for Upper Deschutes Basin study
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DAM REMOVAL Historic Cline Falls Dam Being Removed

Central Oregon Daily

August 1, 2017

DAM REMOVALHistoric Cline Falls Dam Being Removed Cline Falls has long been a popular stop for tourists and locals alike in the Redmond, Oregon area. Now, some of the area's original beauty is being restored as crews begin the work of removing the dam that has been in place since 1913.Central Oregon Daily's Anyssa Bohanan has the story.

Posted by Central Oregon Daily on Tuesday, August 1, 2017



Shon RaeDAM REMOVAL Historic Cline Falls Dam Being Removed
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Dam removal underway near Redmond

Photo credit: Scott Nelson & Deschutes Historical Society

Dam removal underway near Redmond

107-year-old Cline Falls Dam served war effort, a nonexistent town

Bend Bulletin/August 2, 2017

REDMOND — A 107-year-old dam to the west of Redmond, one that provided hydroelectric power to Redmond Airport during World War II and hoped to do the same for a Central Oregon town that existed only on paper, is being demolished.

Beginning this week, workers began to remove Cline Falls Dam, using excavators and sandbags to temporarily alter the flow of the river.

Craig Horrell, district manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, which owns the site of the dam, said removing the nonoperational, wood and concrete dam on the Deschutes River will hopefully make it easier for trout and other fish species to travel downriver.

The demolition is slated to be finished near the end of this month, and will leave the Mirror Pond dam as the only remaining barrier to safe fish passage between Wickiup Falls and Lake Billy Chinook, Horrell said.

“To remove a dam on the Deschutes is a huge deal,” he said.

Cline Falls Dam was originally built in 1910 by Pilot Butte Development Company, which was sold to the Des­chutes Irrigation & Power Company, the precursor to COID. Horrell said the dam was initially built to provide water and energy to the community of Cline Falls, which received a town plat to the west of Redmond, but never became a town.

“It just didn’t work out the way the forefathers hoped,” Horrell said.

In 1942, the dam was commissioned to provide additional energy for Redmond Airport, which was used by the federal government during World War II, according to Horrell.

During the 1950s, a 5-foot-tall concrete dam was built to augment the wood and rock structure that was already in place.

Cline Falls Dam’s 100-year lease expired in 2010, and the dam has not been operational since. In 2014, the dam became the subject of a lawsuit between PacifiCorp — the parent company of Pacific Power, which leased the site — and COID, which alleged that the utility left the site of the old dam contaminated and in disrepair.

In December 2015, PacifiCorp agreed to pay the irrigation district $1.65 million as part of a settlement, according to The Bulletin’s archives. Horrell added that the settlement was used to fund the dam removal project, which he estimated at $800,000.

“In my mind, it’s a bargain,” Horrell said.

He added that the surrounding area, which includes a parcel owned by the Bureau of Land Management, is popular with visitors, and the dilapidated dam could pose a safety hazard.

“My biggest fear is that this was such an attractive nuisance that someone was going to get hurt,” Horrell said.

To design the removal, COID worked with the nonprofit Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and River Design Group, a Corvallis-based company that specializes in river restoration and dam removal. Scott Wright, project manager at River Design Group, said workers began removing accessory structures near the dam itself earlier this summer, after working through a variety of federal, state and local permits.

“The thing about dam removal is that there’s always a lot of history behind them, and they always take a lot of time,” Wright said.

Wright said removing a dam from a major river tends to be a two- or three-phase process. He said workers need to isolate a portion of the dam by diverting the river through a separate portion and removing the rest. Workers use bags of sand from the riverbed — each of which weighs in the neighborhood of 2,700 pounds — to divert the river without harming the fish that live there.

“If for some reason one of them breaks, or something happens, it’s all native material that’s not causing any kind of problems for the environment,” Wright said.

Once demolition is complete, River Design Group will begin working on adding vegetation to the area this fall. Wright added that the area is rich in redband, bull and brown trout, which will be able to move more freely through the river. Following the installation of the fish ladder at North Canal Diversion Dam earlier this year, four of the five dams built along the Deschutes River in Central Oregon during the first half of the 20th century are now safely passable by fish.

“Taking out this structure, this concrete, allows them to move around freely,” Wright said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,




Shon RaeDam removal underway near Redmond
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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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