Irrigation canals dug over a century ago out of the hard, black basalt throughout Central Oregon still function as reliable, Low-maintenance conveyance facilities. But they’re also prone to seepage. To conserve water, the Districts are working with the Deschutes River Conservancy and other partners to line their canals or even replace them with Large plastic or steel pipes. These conservation initiatives are a catalyst for higher instream flows beneficial for fish, wildlife and recreation, and creates opportunities for renewable hydropower development.
North Unit Irrigation District is undertaking the largest streamflow restoration initiative in Oregon’s histroy. When this project is complete, up to 220 cubic feet per second of water will be restored to the Crooked River, north of Smith Rock State Park.
Nearly every diversion operated directly by the seven Districts includes a protective fish screen that meets state and federal standards. These screens prevent small fish from entering irrigation canals, enabling them to safely move downstream. With the major diversions screened, the Districts are turning their sights to the smaller diversions operated directly by their patrons. Some of these projects are groundbreaking.
Three Sisters Irrigation District teamed with the U.S.. Fores Service to completely eliminate fish blockage at its diversion structure, and construct innovative screens on its intake, thereby providing steelhead and resident trout safe, unobstructive access to several miles of Whychus Creek that were blocked for nearly a century.
Tumalo Irrigation District, in addition to their conserved water projects, has constructed new screens and ladders at their Ben and Tumalo Creek Diversions. These facilities allow fish to swim upstream and downstream over the diversions and keep fish, their eggs, and fry out of the irrigation canals and in the river.