Published June 6, 2018 at 03:23PM
The Three Sisters Irrigation District will, by 2020, accomplish something similar districts in the region can only dream about. It will have piped every inch of its 64-mile delivery system and, in the process, provided something good to just about everyone.
Whychus Creek may be the biggest winner of all. TSID draws its water from Whychus Creek, and before piping began the creek ran dry in the summer.
Now, 20 years into the piping project, it has 30 cubic feet per second of water year-round, water that must be left in the creek no matter what. That number, by the way, amounts to more than 13,000 gallons per minute. By 2020, it will have almost 35 cubic feet per second.
Fish, salmon and steelhead will be winners, too. They disappeared from Whychus Creek in about 1895, says Marc Thalacker, manager of TSID, four years after the oldest irrigation district in Deschutes County was created. He expects them back within a few years of the piping project’s completion.
The district’s 193 farms win, as well. While much of the water piping saves is being put back into the creek, farmers get more water, as well, about 25 percent more. More water can mean better farming, and that translates into more money to spend on farm equipment and other items in the community.
Finally, the district will benefit. Three hydro projects generating a total of about 4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity that will be purchased by electric utilities won’t pay the $50 million estimated tab for the full project, but the money will certainly help the effort.
Central Oregon owes a major chunk of its Euro-American presence to TSID and other irrigation districts formed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Carey Act of 1894, adopted by the state of Oregon in 1901, turned millions of acres of federal land over to the citizens of 10 western states for settlement. A key part of that settlement was irrigated farming, and the irrigation districts were formed to provide the water.
Irrigation still is key to agriculture in Central Oregon, but as the TSID piping project makes clear, agriculture can survive alongside native fish and other animals if it’s done right. Doing it right generally means piping.