The canals that deliver water to farms in Central Oregon are shut down in winter, but that doesn’t mean irrigation districts aren’t busy. Empty canals are an opportunity for irrigation districts to make repairs and conduct water conservation projects.
The districts are coming off a very challenging year in irrigation due to a multiyear drought that forced some to slash water allotments to minimal levels and others to shut down early. While piping projects can take years to complete, they will ultimately create larger water allotments even in drought years as open canals lose approximately half their water into the ground.
One of the biggest canal upgrade projects this winter is happening in the smallest irrigation district. Lone Pine Irrigation District, which serves just 22 patrons, has started construction on a piping project that will wrap up in early 2025.
The project will install 10.9 miles of pressurized buried pipe and decommission 9.7 miles of open canal.
The $9.3 million project — $6.9 million to be paid with federal grants — will conserve 2,100 acre-feet of water annually. An acre-foot of water is the amount of water that would cover one acre of ground in one foot of water.
Construction began in October for the replacement of the district’s L-lateral canal, which is being converted from an open canal to an enclosed pipe and is scheduled for completion in March.
Tumalo Irrigation District is also in the midst of a canal-to-pipe conversion project. The district, located northwest of Bend, is installing 3.5 miles of 48-inch diameter pipe this winter. The project will allow the district to conserve water for Tumalo Creek and Crescent Creek.
Swalley Irrigation District is currently working on a large pipeline replacement project in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Transportation North Corridor Project on the north end of Bend.
Jer Camarata, general manager for the district, said the pipeline replacement and relocation project is about 2,000 feet long as it crosses under U.S. Highway 97, running from where Instant Landscaping used to be towards the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office off Jameson Street.
“The new 30-inch pipeline is replacing an older 5-foot-wide pipeline to accommodate ODOT North Corridor Project transportation objectives whilst keeping us whole for our irrigation delivery obligations,” said Camarata.