Guest column: Watershed plan needs public involvement

Bend Bulletin Guest Column

Craig Horrell, Central Oregon Irrigation District Manager

Published July 6, 2017 


As Central Oregon continues to attract new residents and visitors, it’s more important than ever to seek out innovative ways to ensure we can meet this demand and enhance our environment. The river provides water for a diverse set of community needs from farmers and ranchers who grow our food to fish and wildlife habitat and for recreational users and anglers. The Deschutes River is the lifeblood of Central Oregon, and its health and vitality for the current generation as well as for future generations is the responsibility of all who live and visit this special place.

We have a rare opportunity to make a long-term, positive environmental impact that will protect our river, improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. All the while ensuring the Deschutes meets the diverse needs of the community.

At stake is funding from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. To access these dollars for the benefit of the Deschutes River, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control is working in conjunction with NRCS, and with planning assistance from Farmers Conservation Alliance, to complete watershed plans that would eventually cover all eight districts as part of a wider effort called the Central Oregon Irrigation Efficiency Improvement Project. These funds will modernize our canal system.

Our proposed Irrigation Modernization Project would convert open irrigation canals to piped and pressurized systems with the aim of:

• Enhancing aquatic and riparian habitat for sensitive aquatic and riparian species through increased stream flow in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.

• Reducing risks to public safety from open irrigation canals.

• Supporting and maintaining existing agricultural land uses through enhanced water supply reliability.

• Providing financial stability to the irrigation districts through reduced operation and maintenance costs and opportunities to add hydroelectric generation facilities to district infrastructure.

The modernization project is expected to result in numerous environmental benefits, which is why it has widespread support among conservation groups, government agencies and irrigation end-users.

Currently, water for the irrigation districts is diverted from the Deschutes River, which experiences low flows that diminish water and habitat quality from Crane Prairie Reservoir to Lake Billy Chinook.

The modernization project will reduce canal seepage by up to 156 cubic feet per second, and will employ Oregon’s Conserved Water Program to permanently keep more water instream. This will enhance stream flow in the Deschutes River, lowering water temperatures and increasing habitat for​​ sensitive fish and other aquatic species. Other project benefits include lower energy use for our irrigation users, which will reduce pumping for an estimated savings of 13,316 megawatt hours per year, and will lower CO2 emissions by 6,325 tons per year. As part of our planning effort, the Tumalo, Swalley, and Central Oregon irrigation districts will each host a public open house to discuss proposed irrigation system improvements and to collect public input. To attend, join us at one of the following meetings:

• Tumalo Irrigation District Public Open House: 5:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, Tumalo Community Church, Meeting Room, 64671 Bruce Ave.

• Swalley Irrigation District Public Open House: 6:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Tumalo Community Church, Meeting Room, 64671 Bruce Ave.

• Central Oregon Irrigation District Open House: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Monday, Redmond Grange, 707 SW Kalama Ave.

Public participation is essential to the watershed planning and environmental review process. It helps us make informed decisions that consider the full range of environmental effects and alternative solutions. Please join us as we work to create an innovative watershed plan that will benefit the Deschutes River and its users now and for generations to come. Or, learn more at

— Craig Horrell is the manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District.




Shon RaeGuest column: Watershed plan needs public involvement