February 1, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Irrigators say USFS needs water right for wetland revitalization

Feb 09, 2011

February 1, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Irrigators say USFS needs water right for wetland revitalization

Irrigators say USFS needs water right for wetland revitalization

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: February 01. 2011 4:00AM PST

A proposal to create a wetland just south of Dillon Falls along the Deschutes River Trail has caused the U.S. Forest Service, irrigation districts and the Oregon Water Resources Department to examine how much water the project would consume, and whether the federal agency needs to purchase water rights to move forward.

The Ryan Ranch Meadow project would notch the man-made levee that now separates the Deschutes River and the meadow, creating a wetland that would be more similar to what was there before the levee was built, at least 70 years ago.

“We’ve got a great project here,” said Shane Jeffries, Bend-Fort Rock District ranger. “It’s going to improve the health of our river in terms of allowing it access to that floodplain You re-create that wetland environment that used to be beside the river.”

A wetland would bring a diversity of wildlife, serve as an educational tool for schoolkids, and more, he said. Plus, the levy is eroding in places, he said, which is a problem for the Deschutes River Trail that goes along it, Jeffries said.

But irrigation districts have expressed concerns about the Ryan Ranch Meadow project, since it would take water from the Deschutes. And all of the water in the Deschutes River in the summertime is already appropriated, said Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation District manager. Some irrigation districts have water rights for the natural flow. Others, like North Unit, have water rights for water that is stored in Wickiup Reservoir and released. A certain amount of water is also required to be left in the river itself.

The concern is that if the Forest Service removed water from the river as part of the wetland creation project, it would cut into the irrigators’ water rights.

“We’re the junior water right on the river,” Britton said, “so any water that would end up in that meadow would have North Unit’s name on it.”

The Forest Service should get a water right for the project, Britton said, noting that any entity that removes water needs to do so.

“We’re not opposed to the project,” he said. “You need to have a water right to make it happen.”

Jeffries said that the Forest Service has not yet determined what it will do in regard to water rights.

Kyle Gorman, South Central Oregon region manager with the Water Resources Department, said that because of the reservoir water component of the Deschutes River flow, the Forest Service would need to buy a water right — either for stored water, or for the regular flow that would otherwise go to a downstream irrigator.

‘Stored water’

“We think that because of the nature of the hydrology of the river, and the fact that the majority of the water that travels down the Deschutes River during the summertime is stored water, they would need a water right for the project as they have it designed,” Gorman said.

There’s a range of estimates for how much water the Ryan Ranch project would use, Gorman said. The Forest Service estimates put the water use between 200 acre feet and 300 acre feet, he said, while an outside report puts it at 1,000 acre feet a year. By comparison, the average flow of the Deschutes River in that stretch is about 1 million acre feet a year, he said.

An acre foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre with a foot of water.

The Forest Service is considering different ways to measure the amount of water that will go into the wetland, Jeffries said, and will use that to develop more long-term plans.

“If we all understand how much water is going into Ryan Ranch, then it really provides a little bit more context,” he said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010


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