Yesterday the Bulletin had a story on North Unit Irrigation District’s latest proposed piping project. Unfortunately, the story left out a critical element of this proposal: no water savings will be returned instream. This is unprecedented for a local piping project that is to be primarily funded by public dollars. In contrast, 100% of the water saved by Central Oregon Irrigation District piping projects has been returned instream. This only makes sense, if the public is going to pay for conserving water we should get the benefit for fish, wildlife, and recreation. The public comment period on this project is open until August 10. Learn more here and please take the time to make a comment. Personally, I am not in favor of public financing for purely private benefit. For other ideas on how to use this money, keep reading.
The benefits of reducing water loss by piping canals are clear, but not all canals are the same. NUID canals are dug into much less permeable ground and water loss in them is far less than in COID’s canals which are dug into coarse lava rock. From a public benefit standpoint it would be better to use the public funds to pipe a COID canal. COID would put 100% of the saved water back into the Upper Deschutes and NUID could divert that water when it reaches North Canal Dam in Bend.
This would give NUID access to more senior water, increasing water reliability. There would be 100% instream benefit in the Upper Deschutes, helping the districts meet their Habitat Conservation Plan requirements. Since COID’s canals are more porous than NUID’s, water savings per dollar would be far greater, perhaps 3 to 4 times depending on which canal is piped. (We still need to find ways to get water in the Middle Deschutes.)
Alternatively, the funds could be used to pipe COID laterals, these are the smaller canals that divert water from the main canals and deliver the water to irrigation district patrons. The Basin Study Work Group showed that the highest water savings per dollar, and the quickest water savings to implement, would be to pipe laterals which are extremely leaky. The instream water benefit would be even higher per dollar and NUID would still get senior water rights. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Again, I encourage you to submit comments before August 10th. Here are the comments I submitted:
“I believe public funding for this project should be denied as it does not increase flows in the Deschutes River. Public funding should not be used for purely private benefit. These same public funds could be used to pipe other canals with the benefits of increasing water security and reliability to NUID, increasing flows in the Upper Deschutes for public benefit, and further helping to meet the requirements of the DBHCP.”