Study claims Upper Deschutes allocations waste water

KTVZ News May 11, 2017

Irrigators say efforts already underway on issues

BEND, Ore. - A study released Thursday by Central Oregon LandWatch says when it comes to allocating water from the Upper Deschutes River for irrigation purposes, less is more. But the region's irrigation districts said efforts sought by the group already are well underway.

LandWatch said the study's findings indicate that the current system encourages inefficient use of water by senior water rights holders and very efficient use of water by junior water rights holders, resulting in higher crop yields and economic value on farms that have implemented practices to improve water use efficiency.

But irrigation districts responded that efforts to improve the situation are well under way, and in the words of Central Oregon Irrigation District Manager Craig Horrell, "They (LandWatch) are late to the party."

First, the rest of the LandWatch news release:

The study, “Agriculture and Irrigation in Oregon’s Deschutes and Jefferson Counties,” was conducted by Headwaters Economics and commissioned by Central Oregon LandWatch to increase awareness of the importance of irrigated agriculture and of conservation practices that improve crop yield while saving water.

 “Protection of agriculture is an important objective of our work,” said Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch. “So is restoration of more natural flows in the Upper Deschutes to maintain a healthy river system. This study shows we can achieve both.”

The study’s findings show that scarcity of water necessitates conservation and improved water use efficiency by junior water rights holders in Jefferson County - practices that, if applied basin-wide, could improve how water is used within the region and benefit the overall health of the Upper Deschutes River.

Of particular significance is the finding that on-farm efficiency practices can greatly reduce amounts of water that need to be diverted from the Upper Deschutes River for irrigation.

Water conservation strategies, such as drip irrigation systems, achieve an average of 94% water efficiency in Jefferson County, as compared to the lack of such strategies in Deschutes County, where the average has been as low as 43%. These water efficiency percentages reflect the amount of water used that was actually needed for the crops, so a smaller percentage reflects more water use than actually needed.

The Upper Deschutes was historically one of the most stable river systems in the country, LandWatch said. The development and operation of irrigation district systems have substantially altered the flows of the Upper Deschutes River over the​​ past 100 years, with extremely low flows in the winter and very high flows in the summer. Impacts of these uneven flows include diminished water quality, fish kills and severe erosion of stream banks.

“The Deschutes River is one of the great rivers of the American West and the Upper Deschutes River is currently in bad shape,” said Dewey.  “We are now at a point where long-term solutions to the problems must be addressed. These findings point to conservation and efficiency as the answer to restoring the Upper Deschutes to health and providing clean and abundant water for future generations.”

For the full Headwaters Economics study and a position paper by LandWatch on the Upper Deschutes River, go to: The Headwaters Economics study is also found at:

Here's the response from Horrell and the Deschutes Basin Board of Control:

Today, Central Oregon LandWatch released a study on agriculture and irrigation use in Deschutes and Jefferson Counties. The study, conducted by Headwaters Economics, was commissioned by Central Oregon LandWatch.

The eight irrigation districts that serve Central Oregon are actively and aggressively working on water conservation strategies outlined in the study. 

Deschutes Basin irrigation districts are currently partnering with more than 20 stakeholders to complete the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan for federal review and approval. 

Together with state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Portland General Electric and local conservation groups, this collaborative, scientifically based multi-species plan will create a comprehensive strategy to effectively protect and enhance natural habitat while meeting the water needs of our community. The stakeholders’ efforts are inclusive, science-based, and meant to benefit everyone who lives and works in Central Oregon.

This is a difficult issue that dozens of groups have spent years trying to solve. The solution to this problem is not a quick fix or something that can be done overnight. While the development of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan may not be moving as fast as some would like, it’s the best way to ensure productive, long-term results. 

We hope that today’s announcement means that Central Oregon LandWatch is going to support and encourage Deschutes Basin irrigation districts’ efforts. The districts are committed to overseeing this vital network while managing the challenges of upgrading century-old systems in ways that ensure a healthy river, improves fish and​​ wildlife habitat and promotes vibrant communities while meeting the needs of the agriculture community.

Please call Craig Horrell, Vice Chair, Deschutes Basin Board of Control, if you have any questions on the conservation/restoration projects the districts are undertaking. Craig can be reached at 541-548-6047.


Shon RaeStudy claims Upper Deschutes allocations waste water