A few days ago the Bend Bulletin ran a story on a recently approved piping project in the North Unit Irrigation District. Like most stories about water and fish in the paper it could have been greatly improved with a more complete discussion of the issue*. Make no mistake, I am a proponent of canal piping, but the manner in which it occurs and its cost benefit are important. As I detailed in this post from last August, I opposed this piping project during the public comment period. Many others did as well and in response NUID made some small concessions in their application, but this project remains a massive public subsidy mostly for private benefit.
NUID’s original application for taxpayer financing of this canal project did not include any water savings returned to the Deschutes River. It was intended solely to deliver more water to NUID farmers. I fully appreciate the need for NUID to get more water, but if they want to use taxpayer funds for this purpose we should get some benefit as well. After many objections were raised, NUID did modify their application to return 25% of the water saved to the river. This is better than nothing but it is a fraction of the 100% water savings returned instream from other piping projects. It would have been far better for taxpayers to fund other projects that would have benefitted NUID to an even greater extent. See my prior post for more. As approved, this project is a boondoggle. $37.5 million, mostly from taxpayer funding, for only 5.2 cfs of flow for 5 months in the winter makes this the poorest return on public investment of any local piping project I am aware of.
*I subscribe to and read three newspapers everyday, including the Bulletin. I am deeply concerned about the state of journalism, its fundamental role in our system of democratic government, and hesitate to level criticism, but quality matters. I am appreciative of the Bulletin’s coverage of water and fish but this NUID story is typical in that it does not include any critical voices. The beneficiary of public funds, NUID, is quoted, as is the government agency who is the conduit for the funds. Where is the public represented? Who speaks for taxpayers? The fish? The Deschutes River Conservancy is a wonderful source of information but irrigation districts, government agencies, and others clearly not aligned with conservation concerns are on the board of the DRC which severely limits their ability to function as an environmental advocate.