Category : Irrigation Districts
July was hot; the hottest month on record according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Combine that with an unusually warm winter, dismally low snowpack and drought declaration in 90% of Oregon and you get some pretty unhappy conditions for fish and other river dwellers.
Native fish such as trout and salmon thrive in river temperatures below 60°F, but as water warms and oxygen levels decrease, fish become stressed. An increase to 68°F and above can turn a river lethal for most native fish.
Sadly, thousands of fish died around Oregon this summer as a result of the low flows, warm water and increased levels of temperature related diseases. We hope the weather conditions we experienced this summer will give way to more normal patterns, but we do have to acknowledge the likelihood of more droughts in the future.
The good news is that here in the Deschutes Basin, many of our streams are spring fed and don’t tend to get as warm as other streams in Oregon. While flows in the Deschutes River below Bend can approach unhealthy temperatures, colder snow-melt tributaries such as Tumalo and Whychus Creeks help cool flows and preserve a healthier habitat.
With our partners, we are now underway with the Upper Deschutes Basin Study which will design the next generation of water management projects to restore flows in the Deschutes River help modernize century old water management practices that are no longer sustainable for today’s diverse needs.
We all have an interest in maintaining healthy rivers. We are all working together to create a sustainable water plan in the Deschutes Basin for tomorrow and for generations to come. Support this important process by getting informed and sharing information with others.
Read more at www.deschutesriver.org.
“If someone were to have asked me five years ago: What would be your fantasy addition to your ranch? I would have said a center-pivot irrigation system that would improve my crop and save water. But I never thought I could afford one – until I talked to folks from the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Deschutes River Conservancy.”
Cris Converse, Pine Meadow Ranch
Central Oregon ranchers and environmental groups often have very different perspectives. But last year, I harvested the best hay crop I have ever seen thanks to a water conservation project on Whychus Creek.
If you ask any farmer or rancher like myself, we would all say the same thing about water: keep it flowing for us. That’s why I was skeptical when I started hearing about water conservation ideas that would impact my ranch.
But then I realized we agreed on something: inefficient irrigation systems don’t benefit anyone. Ranchers and fish both lose. So we worked together and removed a dam on Whychus Creek,
constructed a new irrigation pump and installed a center-pivot.
The harvest season is drawing to a close in Central Oregon as fall seeding and preparation for the next year begin. With the successful completion of a diversity of crops grown, from garbanzo beans to fresh vegetables, the year turned out good.
Because of efficiencies in irrigation practices, crops that require less water, and the conservation efforts by the irrigation districts throughout Central Oregon, a shortage of irrigation water was overcome.
“This past season was great for most Commodities grown through out Central Oregon with plenty of sunshine and frost free days.” said Richard Macy, a third generation Culver farmer.
“The proof will be after all the seed crops are cleaned, commodities sold, and bills paid. This cycle can take as long as seventeen months before you see the bottom line.”
Even though, Central Oregon is a great place to farm and watch your family grow.
Up to 90% of the water used in Central Oregon supports local agriculture. Much of the irrigation system was developed more than 100 years ago with technology that’s now outdated.
Today, the DRC works closely with local irrigation districts and other partners to improve and update water use efficiency in Central Oregon — restoring much-needed water to our rivers and streams.
Modest changes can yield impressive results. Nearly half of the water now protected in the Deschutes River, Whychus Creek and the Crooked River is the result of piping only 7% of the canal system. To visualize total restored flows, imagine more than eight Olympic-sized swimming pools per hour pouring back into Central Oregon’s rivers and streams!
Healthy rivers are important to both the ecosystem and to our community. We’re working with our partners to find new ways to balance water use and meet all of our needs, particularly in the river. To achieve this, we will need to employ new tools, such as water management agreements, and existing tools, such as water rights leasing, in-stream water transfers, and piping and lining canals. We believe that if we collectively re-think how we use water, everyone can benefit — including the river and irrigated agriculture.
Deschutes River is one of the defining characteristics of Central Oregon. As our region’s cities have grown, many community leaders have helped to responsibly guide and shape this growth to maintain the quality of life we all enjoy today.
Since 1969, Brooks Resources, chaired by Mike Hollern, has been a leader in preserving the character of Bend. Brooks creates planned communities that “enhance, rather than degrade, the natural environment,” according to Mike.
Mike is a founding Board member of the Deschutes River Conservancy. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that preserving the trees, improving water quality and increasing water quantity in the Deschutes River are priorities for the company. “These are the reasons people live here, and we strive to build communities that provide residents with connections to our stunning natural environment,” says Mike.
One such enhancement is a river-friendly hydropower plant upstream from the Bill Healy Bridge in Bend. Brooks Resources, developer of the adjacent Mount Bachelor Village Resort, helped Central Oregon Irrigation District plan the project to have minimal visual and environmental impact. Profits from power sales fund water conservation projects around Central Oregon.
Another example of the company’s dedication to the preservation of the natural environment: the DRC receives funding through the Oregon Community Foundation from each developer sale in its North Rim community. These funds have helped to restore much-needed flows in the Deschutes River.
The Deschutes River runs through many aspects of Mike’s and his wife, Sue’s, lives – including their home on Mirror Pond. “We are always aware that we are privileged to live on the river,” Mike said. “It reminds us every day of our good fortune, and motivates us to protect and nurture the wonderful environment surrounding us.”
“I hope that Central Oregon will grow steadily and thoughtfully while maintaining its unique character and natural advantages,” Mike said of the future. “Without the Deschutes River, Bend wouldn’t be here. It’s the life and soul of this community.”
We can look forward to a higher flowing, healthier Whychus Creek this summer as a result of the latest in a series of restoration projects that have revived this Sisters creek.
Once a dry creek bed in the summer months, Whychus Creek now flows year round and fish populations are starting to rebound. In addition to an increase in streamflow, Whychus has been a gem of collaborative conservation efforts over the years with large-scale riparian rehabilitation, removal of fish passage barriers and replanting of native plant life.
In this spirit, the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the U.S. Forest Service are working together with long time Sisters landowners at the Pine Meadow Ranch. The project will replace their concrete dam with a more efficient and fish-friendly pump. Eliminating the water lost through the unlined ditch that previously conveyed water to the ranch will result in the permanent protection of one cubic foot per second (over 646,000 gallons of water per day) of senior water rights in Whychus Creek. When the project is complete this fall, salmon and steelhead will have access to thirteen miles of previously inaccessible habitat as well as a restored reach just below the existing dam site.
These pioneer water rights are some of the oldest in the Deschutes Basin, dating back to 1880. In addition to the benefits for flows and fish in the Creek, this project will strengthen the 135-year long tradition of farming at the Pine Meadow Ranch by enabling the ranch to continue irrigating in a more efficient manner.
Talk a little bit about your farming operation. I am a third generation Madras area farmer who has taken over the family farm and has expanded the acreage as opportunity has allowed.
We grow carrot seed, garlic seed, grass seed, alfalfa hay, grain hay and both spring and fall wheat, all of which is irrigated.
Why is the Deschutes River important to you? Why do you care? I grew up on this river. We farm quite a bit of ground that borders the Deschutes canyon. I have a shop full of fishing rods, so the river is important on several levels. I need the water for irrigation, and I love the recreation and wildlife it supports. It is also our legacy to make it better than how we found it. Most of us did not cause the problem, but we can improve it, and help mitigate our influence. Once again, take a look at your life, if there was no river would you be here? I know I probably wouldn’t, and honestly most others wouldn’t either. I believe the river is the lifeblood of Central Oregon–that is how important it is.
Why are you a part of the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative process to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes? Without irrigation we could not survive here, it is our livelihood, and in being so, makes any decisions on the Deschutes very important to our operation. I think it is great that we have such a broad base of stakeholders in this process and I guess I am trying to make sure agriculture is represented. I sit on the board of directors for North Unit Irrigation District, as well as being in commercial agriculture so it is a natural fit.
You don’t have to be involved in the flow restoration process, why do you choose to? WHY be involved? I say why not? The Deschutes River is a precious resource for all of us and it is going to take all of us to preserve it. The river influences so many lives in Central Oregon that most people don’t even realize the extent of its grasp on day to day life. Tourism, agriculture, lifestyle, land values, employment, and general commerce to name a few. The Deschutes River and its tributaries are why we are all here in one way or another. There is a deep affection for the river and people have very strong opinions about how it should be managed. So you have two people adamantly voicing their opinion about the river, both just as passionate, but from different ends of the spectrum. Who has the right? Both do. Who is right? Both can be, but there are laws governing the water and where or what can be done with it. This is where the opportunity lies, in educating and participating, to get everybody to come to a broader understanding of the problems and opportunities involved in this process.
How long have you been farming? I personally have been farming on my own for17 years, but grew up helping out where ever I could. Whether I wanted to or not. About half the acres we have now were from when my grandfather started in 1947.
What do you do to use water as efficiently as possible? Most of our ground is irrigated with sprinklers–predominately wheel lines–and the little bit of flood irrigation we have runs into pump back collection ponds which allows us to reuse the run off. We have also invested in a couple of drip irrigation systems which allow us to target root zones more efficiently in our carrot production. As funding and time allows, the systems are being upgraded for efficiency as well. The biggest things are the sprinkler systems and our ponds which allow us to maximize our efficiency. Water is life around here.
In your view, what is the best possible outcome of [the flow restoration process] for the Deschutes Basin? I would like us, the stakeholders, to be more involved in the management of the river. I think there is plenty of water most years, but it is a change in how we manage it that is needed. Cooperation and creative use of the storage and natural flow could make a huge difference in what the river could be. They need to let us be creative and work together by moving water around and best utilizing it when and where it is needed most.
What value do you see in this process? Cooperation and understanding are two of the biggest things that can be accomplished in this process. Everybody needs to understand how the system works and why it is managed the way it is. Once you have that, then a discussion can be had with an understanding of why we have to do some things and can’t do others. The system has certain designs in it that are purpose built and can’t be discounted, but they can be modified or even changed with the right plan. It is getting everyone’s ideas out there and finding ways to improve what we are doing. The potential is there.
Whychus Creek in Sisters has made a huge comeback in the past several years through the collaborative efforts of the Deschutes River Conservancy (streamflow), Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID – water conservation), the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council (fish passage & habitat) and the Deschutes Land Trust (land conservation).
Long-time Central Oregon residents will remember Whychus Creek running dry in the summer months, severely impacting native fish populations. Since we started flow restoration efforts in Whychus, the creek now almost meets the State’s minimum flow requirement of 33 cubic feet per second (cfs). Increased flows of cool water are going a long way to restore stream conditions that support the successful reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in Whychus Creek.
Much of this restoration work has been achieved through creating a more efficient irrigation system for TSID. By piping their leaking canal system, TSID is able to restore flows to the creek while delivering pressurized water to its farming and ranching patrons, reducing or eliminating their pumping costs.
The fourth phase in TSID’s ongoing initiative to completely pipe its system was recently completed – TSID has now piped over 60% of its 60 miles of canals. This phase of the project piped one mile of the canal, restoring 1.3 cfs to Whychus. That is more than 840,000 gallons of water per day! This winter, a similar project breaks ground bringing TSID even closer to completing their water conservation project and restoring a total of an additional 1.3 cfs to Whychus Creek. This project is funded by the Pelton Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Reclamation and the Three Sisters Irrigation District.
On June 6th of this year, Central Oregon lost one of its most important figures in water management. Bob Main was Watermaster and then Regional Manager at the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) for twenty-two years during a time of dramatic change in perception about water management in the region.
Bob’s philosophy of meeting irrigators’ needs while improving the quality of our rivers was at the heart the Deschutes River Conservancy’s (DRC) formation in 1996. He felt strongly that the State needed to honor its commitments to farmers’ water rights. As an avid outdoorsman, Bob also saw the need for more water in our streams and rivers. Bob had the vision and wisdom to understand that a voluntary approach could succeed in restoring our waterways. In 1992, Bob negotiated with water right holders to voluntarily leave 2.5 cfs in Tumalo Creek, the first summer flow in that part of the creek in almost a century.
As a founding DRC board member, Bob worked hard to make sure that his fellow board members understood all sides of the issues being discussed. Bob’s expertise, innovative ideas, passion and generosity made him one of the most dedicated supporters of the DRC. We will miss him greatly.
Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) is in the process of piping almost one mile of their I-Lateral canal, located near the Alfalfa Store & Feed. The conserved water from this project will be transferred to farms in North Unit Irrigation District (NUID). NUID will, in turn, transfer 5 cfs instream to the Crooked River to restore critical steelhead habitat. This project upgrades COID’s canal system while reducing NUID’s reliance on Crooked River water. A win across the board for the irrigation districts and fish!