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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Central Oregon Irrigation District Announces Plans to Pipe Canal 3,000 Feet West From Brookswood Bridge

BY Cascade Business news 

NOVEMBER 21, 2017 E-HEADLINES

 

Approximately 5 cubic feet per second of water

 will be conserved in Deschutes River

Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) has announced plans to begin piping approximately 3,000 feet of the irrigation canal from the Brookswood Bridge heading west. The timing of construction is dependent on the Bureau of Reclamation completing a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis but is expected to begin in December 2017 and be completed by March 2018.

“Piping canals is a critical strategy in modern irrigation practices,” said Craig Horrell, COID district manager. “During the irrigation season, we lose approximately 50 percent of water to evaporation and seepage from canals and laterals. Piped canals mitigate these losses and conserve a significant portion of this water. These conservation efforts benefit fish and wildlife in the Deschutes River ecosystem, support sustainable agriculture and help Bend to manage its water resources for the future.”

According to Horrell, piping this portion of the canal will restore five cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Deschutes River. In addition, it prepares the property for future development that will help the District fund other conservation projects. Piping canals also reduces liability and increases safety in the water delivery system. The District will not hold back any water and 5 cfs represents 100 percent of the conserved water.

The pipe will be buried at grade level and, when the project is completed, COID will restore the trail creating a recreation experience similar to the trail in First Street Rapids Park between Pioneer Park and Sawyer Park in northwest Bend. This continues a partnership between COID and Bend Park and Recreation District (BPRD) to manage Central Oregon’s water resources and consider residential and recreation opportunities.

“Connecting people from the east side of Bend to the Deschutes River as part of the trail system is a long-held community vision. BPRD is excited to be partnering with COID to continue this work,” said Julie Brown, Bend Parks and Recreation District Communications and Community Manager. “This project serves as a great example of how public agencies can work together to meet community needs.”

Piping this portion of the canal will cost approximately $5 million. Funding is provided by a Bureau of Reclamation grant of $1.4 million, a $3.2 million loan from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and in-kind services and cash contributions from COID.

 

http://cascadebusnews.com/central-oregon-irrigation-district-announces-plans-pipe-canal-3000-feet-west-brookswood-bridge/

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COID Planning to Pipe Part of Bend Canal

KBND News Talk

11-16-2017 by Danise Lee

 

BEND, OR -- Central Oregon Irrigation District plans to begin piping 3,000 feet of its main canal west from the Brookswood Bridge, in southwest Bend. 

 

COID's ShanRae Hawkins says this move will not only benefit the ecology of the Deschutes River, but also the residents of the area. "Piping canals is a really important part of the irrigation system. When we have open canal systems, we lose about 50% of the water that's coming in off the Deschutes River to evaporation and leakage. And so, by piping the canals, we're able to conserve a significant amount of water and all of these conservation efforts directly benefit the wildlife." But, conserving five cubic feet of water per second won't be the only benefit of the piping project, according to Hawkins. "The pipe is going to be buried, and we're going to build trails over the top of it, we're working with Bend Parks and Rec, and so people won't even realize that they're walking over the top of a piped canal. And so, aesthetically, it's going to be very appealing, and it's a great partnership between Bend Parks and Rec and Central Oregon Irrigation District and we're excited to have a great new trail system that really hasn't existed in the past."

 

Hawkins tells KBND News, "The projected start date is December to January. The process of getting the contractor lined up and getting the pipe in will really dictate when we start the process. Certainly, if we have a really heavy snowfall this winter like we had last year, it could slow the process down, but the project will be completed by the end of March of 2018 because we have to have the system back up and running in time for irrigation season which starts in April." During construction, stock runs will not take place, and COID is working with local agriculturalists to ensure they still get the monthly water they require.

 

Piping this portion of the canal will cost approximately $5 million, with funding provided by a grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, a loan from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and in-kind services and cash contributions from COID.

 

 

 

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Irrigation districts increase winter flows

Bend Bulletin

Published Nov. 22, 2017

Irrigation districts on the Deschutes River Basin will be increasing flows this winter below Wickiup Reservoir.

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control, a collection of eight irrigation districts that operate in Central Oregon, announced Wednesday that it has committed to ensuring that the Deschutes River flows below Wickiup Reservoir at least 175 cubic feet per second through March 30, according to a news release from the irrigation districts.

Earlier this year, the board of control committed to maintaining flows of at least 100 cubic feet per second from mid-September through March, significantly higher than it is during dry winters. The additional increase will provide improved winter habitat for the Oregon spotted frog and fish that live in the river, according to the release.

Wickiup Reservoir was 62 percent full as of Wednesday afternoon, ahead of where it was in mid-November of 2015 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

 

http://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/5777648-151/irrigation-districts-increase-winter-flows

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Canal piping, possible housing developments in store for SW Bend

Plans delayed because irrigation district didn’t know an environmental review needed

Bend Bulletin, November 9, 2017

Julia Shumway

 

A project to replace a section of canal in southwest Bend with a 3,000-foot irrigation pipeline may be delayed for a year as a federal agency completes an environmental study.

The Central Oregon Irrigation District was prepared to start piping a section of canal west of the Brooks­wood Boulevard bridge in December, but it learned just before ordering pipe that the federal Bureau of Reclamation still needed to complete an environmental study, district manager Craig Horrell said.

“If they can complete some of their tasks by Jan. 1, we could probably get in there and construct it this spring,” Horrell said.

The bulk of the construction would take place behind 25 houses on Rock Bluff Lane, which now have backyards abutting the canal.

In addition, the irrigation district hopes to sell at least some of the 156.4 acres it owns in that area for future development, though there’s no timeline yet for that sale. The district hopes to use proceeds from selling some of its land for future water conservation projects, Horrell said.

The land, which sits between the Deschutes River and existing housing developments, is all zoned for standard or low-density residential housing, meaning only single-family homes or duplexes could be built. If a proposed city development code change allowing triplexes and fourplexes in standard residential zones passes, fourplexes could be built.

Whenever a project is done by a federal agency or using federal money, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 requires that federal agencies — in this case, the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency in the Department of the Interior that oversees water management in 17 Western states — evaluate environmental, social and economic impacts of the project and allow input from the public.

Because a portion of the $5 million piping project came from a federal grant, the bureau needs to complete a study, said Edna Rey-Vizgirdas, a Boise, Idaho-based bureau spokeswoman. How long that takes depends on what type of study is needed, and the bureau will decide that based on some initial scoping.

“It could take a few months to over a year,” Rey-Vizgirdas said. “The purpose is to implement better projects.”

Piping the canal will take several months of work, and the irrigation district can’t be working on it during irrigation season, which runs from April to November.

The Central Oregon Irrigation District has already piped several portions of its canals in Bend, including a section of the Pilot Butte Canal in Juniper Ridge in 2010. Piping reduces the amount of water the irrigation district needs to draw from the Deschutes River, Horrell said.

“Our system’s 100 years old and it’s in desperate need of repair,” Horrell said.

Because of Central Oregon’s volcanic geology, the bottoms of canals in the area consist of sand and porous lava rocks. It’s easy for water diverted from the river to end up seeping through the rocks instead of making it to farms that rely on the canals to irrigate, so the irrigation district ends up diverting more water to make up for that loss.

To lose less water, the irrigation district could choose to line the canal, which would cost less upfront and keep the aesthetics of a waterway. But linings require expensive maintenance and they can make canals too slippery for people or animals to climb out of if they fall in.

Piping, meanwhile, can cost more upfront but be less expensive in the long term. It also provides options for pressurized hydropower.

When the 3,000-foot section of canal west of Brookswood Boulevard is piped, the irrigation district predicts it would restore 5 cubic feet per second of water to the Deschutes River. That’s the equivalent of leaving 32,025 full bathtubs in the river each day.

Once the canal section is piped, the irrigation district intends to cover the pipe and plant native vegetation on top of it. It would maintain a paved access road on the north side and a meandering dirt trail on the southern side.

“It was an opportunity to take something that people perceive as theirs, which is trails along the canals, and enhance it,” Horrell said.

 

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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