Plans delayed because irrigation district didn’t know an environmental review needed
Bend Bulletin, November 9, 2017
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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ShanRae Hawkins, Stingray Communications, email@example.com, 541-390-6411
Mike Britton, Deschutes Basin Board of Control, firstname.lastname@example.org, 541-475-3625
MADRAS, Ore. – Five central Oregon irrigation districts, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and two environmental groups submitted to Judge Ann Aiken earlier today 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. The settlement agreement will not go into effect unless it is approved by Judge Aiken.
WaterWatch of Oregon and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuits in late 2015 and early 2016, claiming that the operation of three reservoirs—Crane Prairie, Crescent, and Wickiup—harms the Oregon spotted frog, a species listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The lawsuits created significant uncertainty for farm and ranch families, and those who rely on the irrigation districts for water supplies stored in these three reservoirs.
Earlier this year, Judge Aiken denied a request by the environmental groups to order immediate changes to reservoir operations. Those changes would have resulted in abrupt and severe restrictions on reservoir operations and disrupted water supplies to thousands of families throughout the Deschutes Basin. Judge Aiken also ordered the parties to participate in settlement discussions. Those discussions, which began on June 1, 2016, ultimately resulted in the settlement agreement submitted to the court today.
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. The irrigation districts voluntarily implemented many of these changes over the past year, and would formally commit to them under the settlement. In addition to the already-implemented changes, the irrigation districts would ensure a minimum instream flow in the Upper Deschutes River of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) between mid-September and the end of March—an increase compared to some years in which minimum instream flows during certain periods were closer to 20 cfs.
The Bureau of Reclamation would commit to using its best efforts to fulfill its obligations under the ESA related to the Oregon spotted frog by July 2017, including completing its consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the potential effects of federal actions related to reservoir operations on the Oregon spotted frog. The Bureau of Reclamation initiated the consultation process in September 2015.
Under the settlement, in exchange for the commitments by the irrigation districts and the Bureau of Reclamation, the environmental groups’ lawsuits would be dismissed. And so long as the settlement is in effect, the groups would agree not to pursue the ESA claims raised in their complaints against the Bureau of Reclamation or the irrigation districts.
“The settlement agreement demonstrates that collaborative, science-based solutions can be achieved when all parties work together,” said Mike Britton, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which is made up of eight central Oregon irrigation districts, including those involved in the lawsuits. “This collaborative approach has proven successful in our region, and results in better outcomes than confrontation. The Deschutes Basin Board of Control would like to thank its local partners for their continued support and insights while the lawsuits were pending and as implementation of the settlement agreement moves forward.”
Although the settlement agreement is a step in the right direction, the irrigation districts recognize that it does not permanently resolve potential concerns related to the reservoirs’ impacts on the Oregon spotted frog or provide long-term liability protection to the districts. The irrigation districts and their partners remain committed to completing a multi-species habitat conservation plan (HCP), which represents a proactive, collaborative approach to balance fish and wildlife conservation with water use in the Deschutes Basin through innovative, science-based solutions. The HCP, once approved, will result in long-term benefits to the Oregon spotted frog, bull trout, steelhead, and other fish and wildlife species, the region’s water resources, and the social and economic health of communities. The HCP will also provide ESA-related liability protection to the districts.
About the DBBC
The Deschutes Basin Board of Control is made up of 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 dbbcirrigation.com.
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.
Oregon spotted frog habitat is improving in some areas and seasons while degrading in others under a legal settlement in the Deschutes Basin.
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.”
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. www.deschutesriver.org
Editorial: Central Oregon does not need another historic canal
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.
A study of the Upper Deschutes Basin in Oregon is examining several options for increasing water storage.
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.”
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