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Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan Complete

On December 31, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the completion of the Deschutes River Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP is a collaborative strategy to share water resources in the Deschutes Basin, covering irrigation and related water management operations while enhancing fish and wildlife habitat.
After twelve years of hard work and collaboration, the eight irrigation districts in the Deschutes Basin and the City of Prineville are excited to move forward with the conservation measures set forth in the HCP!

Overlooking the Deschutes Wild and Scenic River. Photo Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

Shon RaeDeschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan Complete
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The Deschutes Basin Board of Control (DBBC) has prepared a document addressing recent statements and questions related to the Habitat Conservation Plan and other conservation initiatives.

 

STATEMENT

Some have alleged that irrigators want the public to be distracted by what they term a false dichotomy of "frogs versus farmers," when instead, in their view, the "real" choice is a healthy river system and efficient irrigators versus waste. This point of view relies on the asserted premise that there is currently enough water in the system to take care of the needs of both the species and “efficient irrigators” if Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) would just stop wasting water and allow water sharing.

 

RESPONSE

The premise for this viewpoint is seriously flawed. ​​ First, it assumes that COID patrons are wasting water. ​​ This is false. ​​ While the technology around water use will always improve over time, just because a landowner has not purchased and implemented the latest state-of-the-art technology, it doesn't mean that they are wasting water. ​​ They're still putting water to beneficial use, just as they've done for the last 100 years. ​​ 

 

Second, the viewpoint is flawed because it assumes COID is responsible for its patrons' water use efficiency, and that COID can somehow force its patrons to become more efficient. ​​ State law doesn't give irrigation districts the authority to do this. ​​ At the same time, however, state law does enable COID to make its overall delivery system more efficient.

 

Third, the viewpoint is flawed because it assumes there is currently enough water in the system for COID, North Unit Irrigation District (NUID), and fish and wildlife. ​​ There's simply not, without large scale piping projects by the districts, which can be combined with voluntary efforts by landowners who undertake on-farm improvements.

 

And finally, the viewpoint incorrectly assumes COID is not allowing sharing. ​​ That's also false. ​​ COID currently delivers an average of 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water (conserved by COID through previous piping projects) through the Pilot Butte Canal and to the North Unit Main Canal.​​ 

 

COID is currently working with the Deschutes River Conservancy, Summit Conservation, and AMP Insights on a water marketing program. ​​ The pilot project would allow water right sharing between water users. ​​ The goal of the pilot project is an additional 5 cfs during the 2020 irrigation season, with a total goal of delivering 50 cfs through water sharing and on-farm programs. ​​ The program, which is expected to launch in 2020, is being funded through a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart grant.​​ 

 

STATEMENT

Critics allege the irrigation district conservation plans are flawed in relying on “expensive big piping” to reduce water use when “far cheaper approaches” are available such as piping private ditches, eliminating flood irrigation, and offering incentives to use less water. 

 

RESPONSE

The districts are employing a variety of conservation tools including:

 

  • Transfers: Permanent transfers of water rights off the land generate improved water supply for farmers, cities, and the Deschutes River.

 

  • Leases: Temporary transfers (usually one year) of water rights off the land generate improved water supply for farmers, cities, and the Deschutes River.

 

  • Sharing: Water agreements between districts facilitate water conservation measures and improve reliability.

 

  • Piping: Piping outdated canals, which can leak up to 50% of their water during transmission, allows landowners and the Deschutes River to capture an abundance of water.

 

  • Reservoir Management: Better allocation of stored water addresses district water supply and streamflow needs.

 

  • On-farm Improvements:​​ Districts are working with landowners to implement voluntary conservation measures.

 

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