April 30, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Bill That Could Benefit Area Rivers Goes to Bush

May 08, 2008

April 30, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Bill That Could Benefit Area Rivers Goes to Bush Bill that could benefit area rivers goes to Bush
By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin

Published: April 30. 2008 4:00AM PST

The North Unit Irrigation District could soon be able to do water-saving projects that would increase stream flow in the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, due to a bill that passed the U.S. House on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill, which passed the Senate three weeks ago and still has to be signed by President Bush, also reauthorizes the Deschutes River Conservancy to receive federal funds in coming years.

“We’re excited to have it happen, and I think it will be good for our district,” said Richard Macy, an irrigator and the chair of the North Unit Irrigation District board.

The bill alters the irrigation district’s contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, changes that have been under way for more than two years, he said.

Previously, North Unit, which serves customers in Jefferson County, could only use its water rights for irrigation.

But the new contract allows the district to do things like line canals or pipe them to prevent water loss, and then put the water saved back in the river.

“Now, we’ll be able to participate in conservation projects that require putting water back in stream, and anticipate doing lots of those to benefit water conservation,” Macy said.

The new contract also will allow the district to pump less water from the Crooked River, he said.

The change for North Unit could lead to a series of projects with significant implications for river flows on the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, said Tod Heisler, the executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, which works to increase stream flows to improve habitat for fish and other wildlife.

“When you get down to river restoration, the key is Central Oregon Irrigation District and North Unit,” he said, since those two irrigation districts hold many of the region’s water rights.

For the conservancy, the bill doesn’t result in any funding, he said, but instead it authorizes the organization to ask for $2 million from the 2010 budget.

“That gives you the permission to play,” he said.

During the next year, the Deschutes River Conservancy will be talking with representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation to try to convince the agency to include the organization in its budget.

The items included in the bill are issues that people have been working on for a while, said Andrew Whelan, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, who supported the measure.

“They’re definitely a good way to balance land use and conservation,” he said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.


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