Swalley Irrigation District and the Deschutes River Conservancy recently announced the completion of piping a 3 mile stretch of canal which will restore about 1.8 cubic feet a second (CFS) of flow to the Middle Deschutes during peak irrigation season. 1.8 CFS is about 13.5 gallons. Picture 5-gallon buckets, two full and one 2/3rds-full. Put them on their side and that’s the size of the stream they would create. Restoring water to the river is always good news, but this announcement is a great example of the complexity of the issue.Read More »
I have been writing for years about the water crisis that is looming in Central Oregon. Global heating, booming growth, and antiquated water policy is already impacting fish and wildlife. The persistence of shortages for agriculture are now becoming apparent to even the most fervent deniers. Municipal shortages are clearly on the horizon. I am heartened that the new ownership of The Bulletin is tackling this issue. Today they had two good articles on the topic. “How climate has changed farming the the Northwest” is a reasonable overview of the impacts of smaller snow pack, a topic I frequent. Missing from the article is a discussion of the impact of over pumping groundwater and lack of recharge which is equally concerning. They also ran a story about water rights marketing in Washington in the print edition, but failed to put it online (I found it here). This is exactly the approach that the Basin Study Work Group said would be a cheaper, faster way than piping to return water to the Deschutes River. If it can work in Washington, why not here in Central Oregon?
Today the Bulletin ran a guest column, “$1 billion is too much to give irrigation districts in these times“, by Tod Heisler of Central Oregon Land Watch. Clearly, I agree with Tod that the current plan is the wrong one. My first letter to The Bulletin criticizing water and canal management by local irrigation districts was over 10 years ago. Hopefully we can get past identifying the problem and finding real solutions to our local water issues before lack of adequate funding, a growing population, and a heating planet create a full-blown crisis. Of course, it already is a crisis for local fish and wildlife.
Next week the City Club of Central Oregon will host a discussion on the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Initially billed as a debate between Tod Heisler of Central Oregon Land Watch and a representative from the irrigation districts it now features Bridget Moran of the US Fish & Wildlife Service standing in for the irrigators. I guess none of them wanted to stand up for their own plan. I’m not sure what this debate will be about now. What I do know is that this discussion will be fundamentally unsatisfying regardless of who is on the stage.Read More »
Central Oregon Irrigation District is asking for another round of taxpayer funding to pipe a small section of their 400+ miles of canals. This time the request is for $42M to pipe 7.9 miles of canal. Yesterday Central Oregon Land Watch posted their analysis of this proposal. Per COLW, $42M equates to “$568,000 per irrigator”. I wish I got this sort of taxpayer subsidy. The Basin Study Work Group clearly showed ways to save the same amount of water for 25% of the cost of main canal piping. WaterWatch has pointed out that there are no guarantees in this latest piping proposal that any conserved water be permanently returned to the upper Deschutes. And, as always, there is no mention of increasing flows in the middle Deschutes during irrigation season. The song remains the same…
Central Oregon Irrigation District continues to move forward with piping their main canals. Two days ago a public review meeting for the next section was announced. There are clearly good things about this proposal. Piping a leaky canal will save water that can be shared with farmers in North Unit Irrigation District. Nevertheless, I remain a critic. We taxpayers are funding this improvement project for the benefit of private interests. Further, it is not the most efficient way to spend our money. More water can be saved, cheaper, and more quickly using other approaches. This particular train seems to have left the station, however.
Last June, Portland General Electric released a comprehensive, multiyear water quality study of Lake Billy Chinook, the rivers that supply it, and the lower Deschutes River into which water is released. Among other things, the report showed that the Crooked River contains significant amounts of pollution. This pollution combined with sunlight generates suspended algae on the surface of Lake Billy Chinook which is subsequently released into Lake Simtutus and then the lower Deschutes River. Algae blooms are increasing in occurrence, leading the Oregon Health Authority to warn last June that “harmful algae blooms” could “routinely develop in the lake”.
One of the shortcomings in the Habitat Conservation Plan is lack of adequate consideration for water quality. Clearly, high temperatures and pollution can have adverse impacts on fish and the aquatic environment, including mortality (“take”). Irrigation return flows are “covered activities” but the HCP does not adequately examine impacts on water quality from agricultural runoff or provide for minimum standards in covered waterways.Read More »